Why the swallows like to come to Fife Smallholder every year
The pictures of this nest sum up for me the reasons why the swallows find our part of the world a good place to come. They arrive every year in the late spring, and if the weather is not poor (like last year 2012) they will have one or two broods in the season. Our hen sheds are popular spots for them to make their nests and raise their broods and we make sure there is an ‘in’ and an ‘out’ where we can. This is achieved by removing wooden panels high up to allow the swallow to enter and exit even when the hens are shut in for the night.
I follow @swallowsightings on Twitter so know when the swallows first arrive in Britain and then slowly travel up the country following the spring, to our home in Fife. As the saying goes, “one swalllow doesn’t make a summer” but the sight of the first swallow is a very welcome one. I am also a fan of Springwatch and love the fact that they regularly feature this migratory bird nesting and raising chics as well as tracking them to their winter homes in Africa and other sunnier climates. Click here for a link to BBC info and footage on swallows.
These pictures show how the nest is constructed with ingredients found around the smallholding. We have heavy clay and the swallows use this along with water from our pond to create the bricks or building blocks, this is then woven with horse hair and straw to give strength and rigidity. Then the cup is lined with feathers to make it soft and warm. Some nests are used again and again, and others are built every year. We have two spots where the nests are removed once the swallows have gone, but are built again in the same spot every year. I can only presume that it is the same swallows who build them and like the view.
There is plenty of insects to eat around the smallholding, but the swallows particularly like swooping low over our sheep fields, presumably getting insects and flies that are attracted to the sheep poop. When it rains or is very windy they are found flying in our woods – following the insects who have gone there for shelter. I think of them as the day shift, and the bats as the night shift. They have a very distinctive call, and I know when the cat is around because they will buzz it and give off an alarm call.
All too soon the swallows and their young start to line up along the overhead electricity cable, I have counted over 100 on a good year. Then one day you look around and they have gone, sometimes leaving the last brood which has fledged and will feed up before they too leave for the sunshine. I find it fascinating that these young fledglings will fly unguided all the way to their wintering grounds, and that they have the strength to do this journey so soon after leaving the nest.
There are many migrant birds that visit our home, but the swallows are by far my favourite. Like all things in the cycle of life, they will be sighted once more on the southern shores of Britain and I will eagerly follow their journey north to my home. Its winter here in Scotland just now, but it pleases me to think that my Scottish born swallows will be enjoying themselves in the warmth of the sunshine in Africa feeding and getting ready to follow the spring north to their breeding grounds in Scotland, where there are plenty of midges and beasties for them to eat.