Swallows (All About)
Swallows are Irish birds because they are born here in Ireland in summer. The nests are built from mud which both parents scoop up in flight as they fly over muddy ground in rural areas. They are lined with feathers which the swallows pluck from themselves. The cup-shaped nests are always built indoors in sheds and barns. (Mud nests fixed to the outsides of houses and on gables are built by a different bird — the house martin, swallows’ nests are always indoors.)Read moreRead less
The female lays three to six white eggs with red-brown speckles and they hatch after fifteen days. The nestlings are fed by both parents and are able to fly after 20 more days. They then fledge, leave the nest and don’t return to it again. Swallows are carnivores. They feed on aerial insects which they catch in their large gaping mouths. They cannot eat anything else so as the days shorten after the equinox in September, they gather in colonies on telegraph wires and suddenly all fly south to Africa to spend the winter. Irish swallows spend the winter in South Africa where it is warm enough to have sufficient aerial insects to feed them.
Long ago, people didn’t know that they migrated to Africa in winter. When they couldn’t see them flying around they were sure that they hibernated in the mud at the bottom of ponds. This of course doesn’t happen. When the days lengthen in March they set out once more for Ireland as the longer days in Ireland in summer means that they have up to eighteen hours of daylight to catch insects to feed their young — something that couldn’t happen in Africa as summer days there are much shorter. Their arrival in Ireland depends on weather and prevailing winds — in 2009 the first swallows were recorded here on 16 March.
But one swallow doesn’t make a summer and usually the main group do not arrive until April. There is a lot of folklore associated with swallows. Long ago there was a belief that ailments could be cured by treating them with something that resembled the ailment. Thus, because swallows twittered (rather than sang) they could be used as a treatment for stuttering and for epilepsy. This involved eating the flesh of the swallow, something we wouldn’t dream of doing now as swallows are a protected species. Swallows are seen as birds of good luck. It will bring good fortune if they nest on your property. Or it is a sign of good weather if they are flying high in the sky. They are also considered specially favoured by God so it is really unlucky to kill one.
Things to do
1. Record the date when the first swallow is seen. Over the years this will give an indication of whether they are arriving earlier each year because of climate change. Go out in May to look for swallows flying in the sky. Ask the pupils to look inside sheds and barns to see if there are swallows nesting.