Swallow: What You Should Know

Swallows are migratory birds. They spend the summer with us and have their young here. They spend the winter in the south where it is warmer.

Swallows are a family of animals. There are many different types of it. House martins, barn swallows, sand martins, rock martins, and red-necked martins live with us. Because of climate change, more and more other swallow species are coming to us.

Swallows are rather small birds. In some species, the tail is conspicuous: it has two forks and looks something like when we spread our thumb and forefinger slightly apart. They cannot walk well with their feet. But they rarely do that either.

How do swallows live?

Swallows feed on insects that they hunt in the air. In good weather, these insects fly high, so the swallows fly high too. This is an indication that the weather will remain sunny for a while. When insects fly low, swallows fly low too. In the past, it was particularly important for farmers to be able to deduce the weather for the following day from the flight of swallows.

Swallows are also easily recognized by their nests. At the time of nest building, a sticky liquid mixes with their saliva. They use it to glue sand, clay, or other materials together and use them to build their nests. They stick them where cats or other enemies can’t get to them: on beams, under porches, and in similar places.

How do swallow species differ?

House martins were originally bred on rocks. However, they have gotten used to the people and now like to live close to them. Because they sometimes build their nests next to churches, they are also called “Cherry Swallows”. They also like to breed high up in the mountains, up to 2,600 meters above sea level. They like to build their nests in colonies, i.e. close to other nests. It can be five to a thousand. The female lays three to five eggs twice a year.

The barn swallows are also called house swallows or forked swallows because of their forked tail. They especially like the landscapes around farms, where there are meadows and ponds. That’s where they find the most food. They prefer to build their nests in stables and barns. Before there were chimneys, they entered houses through openings at the top of the roof. Because these openings were intended for the smoke from the kitchen, they are called “barn swallows”. A barn swallow lays four to five eggs two to three times a summer. In Germany, barn swallows are endangered.

Sand Martins are our smallest swallows. As nests, they dig burrows on riverbanks or seashores, sometimes in clay or gravel pits. They pad these cavities with straw and feathers. The female lays eggs once or twice a year, five to six at a time. In Germany, sand martins are strictly protected. In Switzerland, they only exist in the Mittelland, because they don’t feel comfortable higher up.

The rock martins live more in the south. In Switzerland, they are found in the Jura and in the Alpine valleys. Originally, they preferred to build their nests on rock faces, in ravines, or on bridges. Recently they have also been building houses, especially under the roof. They breed once, or twice in a good year. The female lays two to five eggs each time.

Red-necked Swallows tend to live in the south, even in summer. In our countries, i.e. north of the Alps, they have only existed since around 1950. They are also referred to as “errant guests” because people think that they have rather stayed here. They usually mix with a group of barn swallows for the journey. They hang their nests from the ceiling.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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