My neighbours and I have been enjoying the company of ‘our’ swallows all through the summer. The always-on-the-go swallow parents have successfully raised six members of the next generation, and now we are watching sadly as they start making preparations to leave our shores for the milder climes of Africa, with the parents feeding up their offspring for the long flight. Soon we will be seeing swallows starting to flock nearby, and our little family will be joining in. These two young ones look a bit apprehensive, don’t they?
The sight of a swallow’s acrobatic flight as it swoops and dives through our skies is both heartwarming and exhilarating. It is also a marker of change. First, as spring spreads through the country, the swallows arrive and are generally seen first in southern counties, including Cornwall. Then, in the autumn, the familiar sight of swallows flocking before migrating south confirms the turning of the seasons as temperatures cool and the leaves turn gold.
As well as getting pleasure from watching them, we can help swallows, too. Historically, swallows would have nested in caves, but have now almost completely adapted to using the eaves of buildings. Cornwall County Council has produced a useful leaflet for anyone undertaking development work, such as planning an extension or property conversion, with some simple steps you can take to ensure swallows have somewhere to nest and raise young, with little if any inconvenience to you, and much pleasure to be had from watching them nearby.
Swallows migrate south again in the early autumn, making that long long journey, because they cannot cope with our harsher winters. However, in the winter of 2008/9, a single swallow stayed behind at Marazion RSPB reserve, and was seen by staff and visitors flying around the reserve well into the coldest months. I couldn’t find anything online to tell me if the brave little bird made it all the way to spring – do any readers know? I’m hoping it did. The story reminded me of Oscar Wilde’s flighty but ultimately generous-spirited swallow of ‘The Happy Prince’ fame (if you haven’t already read this delightful fable about a swallow that stayed behind through winter to help his prince, then you really should, though it might bring a tear – or several – to the eye…).
But, the odd fictitious or hardy swallow apart, our swallows will be leaving us soon. We will miss them once they finally depart, but they’ll be back next year for me, my neighbours and all of us to enjoy once more.