Peter John and I have been in e-mail communication about swallows for almost 10 years. When we started communicatiing, Peter lived where he does now, in his cottage in St. Clears, Carmathenshire, West Wales, and I lived in South Africa. We began communicating about swallows as part of a website blog calles Swallows, Swifts and Martins. I recall a discussion on how swallows were systematically captured and burnt alive for food in Ghana, and how incensed Peter was at the slaughter. His perspective was different from that of almost all of the other people on the blog, because he was not an observer, or a field ornithologist, Peter was, in a sense, a breeder of swallows. He had given over his cottage's barn, to swallows, for breeding. He knew the birds intimately, and did all that he humanly could, to make the environment safe ands welcoming to breeding swallows. He watched over them when they bred, and worried about them when breeding went askew. He was, and remains, obsessed about his swallows. Hence the indignation when he heard how they were slaughtered in Ghana. On this page you can see something of what Peter does to help and encourage his swallows.  

Barn Swallows out of the nast

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barn Swallows in Wales

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barn Swallows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the barn swallow barn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swallows observe the workshop within the barn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barn Swallow Barn

 

 

Spring is not far away now in the UK, swallows will return from South Africa. No one knows how many will return.  When they arrive it would be lovely to appreciate the tireless task they have undertaken to reach our shores.

Sadly this isn’t the case. Little swallow might be lucky to still find it’s last years nesting site that probably may now be a new barn conversion with now human habitants occupying dwelling. Swallows will still try to enter building confused. Too many times over the years I have witnessed this. For others like farmers in most cases, they know when the birds arrive and when they migrate. In between times they just notice the swallows are in and out searching for food when their young are born. Farmers find the odd swallow that their cat took a liking to, or they lock up a barn door not always realizing a pair of swallows are settled inside with the view of building a nest etc. Farmers are, or have to be pretty hard characters dealing with livestock, so not that sentimental regards bird life, and quote, they’ll manage. Wish I could be more like that attitude.  I wouldn’t worry so much, knowing full well after eighteen years having swallows in my little barn shed, the tragedies that may await them. Some years they are lucky and others not so lucky.
 

Keeping the happenings and events mainly around my little barn, and not digging into wider welfare of our swallows in outlying districts where they have been over the years things best not mentioned in some cases, but a few things people should understand if you have swallows nesting in your sheds outhouses whatever It would be very cruel to upset any swallows at this stage. If people don’t want them, then make sure there is no possible entrance for the birds to investigate. If on the other hand only to pleased and honoured with these little angels of the sky, try and make their stay as peaceful as possible, and be prepared to put up with some droppings from youngsters when born. Parents do a good job removing waste from nests and babies in need of droppings, but cant always be at hand when searching for food. The established swallows get to know where to build a safe nest out of the suns heat with southerly facing roofs, but young ones mating for the first time tend to place nests anywhere in the spring when the weather isn’t that warm. By the time their babies are growing up they fall out of the nests exhausted by the heat from the sun with the nest close against the roof facing the midday heat wave. I have a tin roof over my little barn and the first years were terrible for babies sweltering in wall nest and nests on a shelf. Although not in direct sunlight the tins acted like a radiator. Later I lined the roof inside and put a water sprinkler on the tinwork for cooling the roof on hot sunny days.  In Wales we don’t have that many sweltering days throughout the summer unless we are lucky to have a heat wave, and that’s when the babies cook, especially second broods born in the height of summer. Swallows like to be near farms with cattle for feeding off the big brown flies from cow’s droppings. Also with a stream or river nearby.  The river behind my cottage is full of swallows skimming the surface during bad weather and is sheltered by lots of trees catch insects hovering above the water. Another point of interest is not to be too enthusiastic peeping in and out of swallows dwellings to see what’s the situation, has she laid eggs or admiring the chirping babies when young. Watch them via web cam or video set ups not to disturb them. If they are the same pair or pairs that return each year they in time will accept you poking around. But new pairs you may frighten away and wont return. Never frighten any swallow out from it’s dwelling when it’s dark that could be tragic. Well enough of the do’s and don’ts this now is a summery of how I first encountered swallows at my cottage.        

 

It was in 1993 we first moved into cottage in West Wales from another semi rural place near Cardiff. No swallows seen in the years there. Only place where one could see swallows was on or at was farms deep in the countryside. And that’s if the farmer didn’t take a pot shot at you for trespassing. Our cottage had a small outhouse attached where I dumped all my rubbish from moving house. Say rubbish but did consists of metal working machines and casting equipment. Later on through the years to this present day found I could only work with this equipment during the winter when all the swallows had departed. Sufficed the building to the swallows not to disturb them nesting.

In the first year living at the cottage one day seen grass hanging from some electric cables that were secured to the wall and was about to brush it away when a bird entered with a loud screech. That was the first swallow I had seen for over forty years. Couldn’t believe it having a swallow in my little barn. X owners never mentioned swallows used barn. There were no sign of any old nests in there and no wooden beams to build on. Anyway I was thrilled and watched the nest getting bigger over the next week or so. Checked one evening when closing the barn door which now has a cut out to allow swallows easy access, that only one swallow was inside barn perched on a bit of wire supporting my florescent sent tube, and thought strange only one tonight. After three days seeing this lonely one staying overnight with nest not quite completed, I realized the worst. Sadly that was the end of swallow activity that year. It too left after a few days. Sometime driving through the country lanes see dead swallows on the road hit by fast moving vehicles. Also seen babies and parents messing about on the roads either collecting mud to build nests or just strangely resting of all places to rest. Could be the heat from the tarmac warming them up if they were cold?

Sad as I was looked forward to the following year hoping swallows would choose my place again. And they did and to my
surprize finished off renovating this wall nest. I Had set up video cameras now keeping a watch on the comings and goings of my precious little friends. Trouble was I was getting too obsessed by them spending all day looking at the monitor.

Every thing was going well with the eggs in the nest and me reading lots of little articles regards swallows behaviour. 

One evening when the eggs were about to hatch i saw two swallows at the nest site chirping madly. Ho! they must be excited, an egg must have hatched. Closing the barn door that evening I felt ill seeing four eggs smashed on the floor with dead babies splattered about. Cut a long story short gathering information for a later date, another swallow was trying to mate with the female and threw her eggs out of the nest. That’s it, never saw anymore swallows in the barn that year.

Following year no swallows nested, only entered bar and must have said no thank you. So never gave swallows much thought for the next year about  1996.  Good news that year a pair came in settled in the wall nest and had two broods. Missed them all in September when they departed for South Africa. Have electric cables outside rear of cottage and masses of swallows gathered on them before migrating. During the winter I decided to make life more comfortable for any returning swallows in the coming season. Made a high shelf out of old timber and sectioned some compartments off with it hoping a swallow might take a liking to the site for nesting. Learnt that swallows don’t nest close to another pair in same area from reading books. Well mine after some conflicts did nest close to one another and were using the wall nest plus new nest they built on the top wooden shelf.
 
 

Each year is so different never the same. Used to have one beautiful male swallow that cheeped and chirped all day long either in the barn or outside on telegraphs wires. Had him for many years returning and no need for ringing, as I knew him so well. Personally I am dead against ringing, but sometimes yes it would be nice to know if the same birds return. Last year one of the females had mottled chest distinctive features and will know if she returns this year 2011.  

Over the years the males enters barn first followed by female a week later. That’s how they finally depart with the male leaving a week before female follows. Usually all the babies have been escorted out long before parents leave, apart from last year with three lots of five broods between two females and only one male the babies flew from the barn in October a week or so after parents left. The last five babies didn’t all leave at the same time, but in twos and threes. 

Mostly there are only two broods for each pair during the season, with last year being an exception.
 
Haven’t all been successful in the past with babies falling from nests or last baby born flying out before it was ready to following his or her mates. Never came back could hardly fly. When observing nests always see four babies almost right up to the time they exercise their wings ready for take off. Then always seems to be the case anther little head will come into view making five babies in each of the nests. This is usually the tragic one that’s left behind while parents are teaching their young to fly properly. First few days they stay out near the cottage for an hour or so, slowly getting longer as the week passes. The parents always return to the barn to check and to feed last little baby. After first brood the young are quickly forbidden to return to nesting site after about a fortnight, where parents will rest for a week before tiding their nest ready for second brood. Also seen them swap nests if a number of nests have been built in various places over the years in the barn 

Another thing I found to be careful of is, not to have glass windows left shut. Best cover up windows with some sort of heavy netting. Swallows think it’s a quick exit and smash into that window hurting themselves. 

Lone male came into the barn last year, and started to build a nest. When the female flew in a week later she went to the wall nest. Didn’t take that much notice until anther pair flew in and made for one of the nests on the top wooden shelf I made for them. Some time later the wall nest had five eggs in it as did the pair on the shelf. Now the fun begins as when the babies were born the male from the nest above the wall nest was feeding the two sets of babies. They had two more broods each another lot of ten babies with same results. Then these female had third brood and still were looked after by the one male. The lone lager male tried on many occasions to mate or feed babies in the wall nest, but was fought off each time. I can include video footage of this event. Well it was a good year for swallows last year and lone male flew off with the other male followed a week later by the females then remaining babies.  

Often wonder what ever happens to them on their way to Africa and hear of some horrible tales of human onslaught of these poor little birds. I have done my part protecting them here in West Wales and it’s not for me to right the world.

 

 

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