Migration of Swallows

 At the moment we definitely don’t have many swallows.  Where are they? 

Where have all the swallows gone.   Swallows migration should be ending now and they should be arriving here for the summer.


I wrote the following in my diary in 2007.  It is aboue swallow migration.  Since then I think the swallow numbers round about the stack yard have become less each year!!

This is as relevant today as it was two years ago!! –

I feel as though the family of swallows who come here every year, belong to our family. They have been coming to these buildings for well over 90 years. (Before my time!) It would be criminal and irreverent if, in our generation, swallow numbers dropped dramatically. If swallows stopped coming now it would be irreverent and heartbreaking. Part of nature that has been going on for years should not slowly decreases or stop because of man – but it does. Or could it be because of climate change? Now there is another issue.

I have taken these swallows for granted over the years. They are not a bird I can feed. They feed on insects. Its been nice when they arrive. It heralds the warm weather. Without them flitting about and zooming past our heads and perching on the telephone lines summer would not be the same. When we watch them gather to leave I can see it is some indescribable knowledge that brings them together to travel.

If we all originate from one source I wonder if the ‘migration DNA’ of our past is the core of why we like holidays and have the urge to flit round the world and flit home again.

If there is anyone who reads this web page who lives under the flight path of the swallows please contact me and comment

  A relative told me when she was abroad she saw some wild birds hung in cages in the heat of the day . One especially was going mad and it was terrified. She says, to this day, she still feels guilty for not paying to set it free. Is that what happens to our swallows?  Will anyone know?


 I really hope I see a flock of swifts arriving soon and that their migration has been successful .  It would make my summer

 swallow on the wing

A swallow on the wing


Back to May 2009.  I’m lucky that David sent me some swallow information and he saw his first swallow on 7th April on the Yorkshire Wolds.


37 thoughts on “Migration of Swallows

  1. Roy

    We usually have three or four swallow nests in an outbuilding every year and countless swallows. So far this year we have have only had fleeting glances of one or two swallows. Date 2ndof June What is going on? I am not even sure what time of year they usually nest?

  2. Jane Pugh

    Live in town s.e. Gloucestershire, population approx. 3500. For the first time for at least 25 years (as long as we have lived here) no swallows have returned to nest in our shed. I see none overhead in the town. Some martins, only one or two swifts instead of dozens. I miss them each day, as they always fill me with delight while they are with us. Why haven’t they come back – have there been bad storms in their winter homelands? Spin-off : we have noticed a lot more flies & midges than usual.

  3. Trish Post author

    Thank you Roy and Jane for telling me this. Over the past two days I have been trying to find out why. Among the things I have done is looked at BBC Springwatch but cannot see anything. I am putting together another article, and am going to see if I can find out if it is happening elsewhere. I have read about swallow numbers fluctuating but not declining. I will see what information the BTO have. It’s a worry isn’t it? Trisha

  4. Mike

    I live in Brackley Northamtonshire, we have had swallows nesting in the apex of our house roof for as long as i can remember, however this year have not even seen a single bird, or a swift for that matter, where are they all? Mike

  5. Trish Post author

    I have been asking. I have only heard things I have heard that there are in some areas a devastating drop in swallows, house martins and swifts.

    It has been said it could be global warming across the sahara and increased predation by Hobbys – they are birds of prey that can fly faster than swifts.

    There is anecdotal stories about a big mortality around the Zambezi River when air temperature plummeted 20 deg C – swallows fell out of the sky. As I say this is only anecdotal but could be true.

    There have also been two bad breeding seasons in England.

    Hope there is a better breeding year this year. But we are so helpless with swallows. We cannot feed them. It is a more global problem.

    I have read that if there is a reduction in swifts and swallows there will be in increase in insects .

    I wonder if this is a sure sign there is something wrong.

    In some places there does not seem to have been a drop in numbers. I wonder why there is this fluxuation.

    I have started a forum called at http://birdtablenews.com/forums/topic.php?id=10

    I have started a topic about swifts and swallows, where information could be brought together. It’s new so not many chatting yet.

  6. viv

    We too have noticed the missing swallows. As far as we know they have been nesting in our barn for hundreds of years – our house being about 400 yrs old. The house martins seem fine and are nesting successfully. We do remember the swallows returning, a few at least. Normally we have at least three nesting pairs but there are none at the moment. Last month there was nest building and it all seems to be sadly silent at present. We miss them and hope this does not bode too badly for the future.

  7. Trish Post author

    Wow! That is really good. I wonder if they take a different flight path to Perthshire than they do to Yorkshire.
    It’s good to hear that you have a lot of swallows. Most of the comments I get are telling me about a decline.

    Am looking to see if anyone is recording this decline, but have not come across anywhere yet. I thought I saw something on RSPB site, but cannot see it now.

  8. Sue

    I just wanted to add that this year has been our best ever for barn swallows, once breeding was well underway with juveniles in flight I was able to count around 50 birds. Also it seems a greater number made it back safely this year.

  9. T Thomas

    Rushden, East Northamptonshire 1st September 2009

    We have been looking after an injured young swallow that we found on the 23rd August – we have had it for a week now. We found it on the ground with an apparently broken wing. Amazingly, it made no attempt to get away and allowed us to pick it up. We decided to look after it, rather than allow it to end up the meal of a cat or fox or such like. We now have it in a canary cage and are feeding it live and dried mealworms, flies etc. We are trying to teach it to help itself to food and water! We are are considering ways of maintaining a live food supply throughout the winter. We will also have to make sure it is kept warm but we do not know what an appropriate temperature range would be. It is really cute but we are saddened by the fact it is on its own. I it possible to get hold of another (injured?) swallow from somewhere to keep it company. How can we find out if ours is a make or female?

  10. Trish Post author

    Have been finding some information from Garth Christians book ‘Down the Long Wind’
    He records ‘rising temperatures mean pleasanter conditions for the insect-eating swallows’

    So if your swallow is being fed the exact temperature need not be as important

  11. dennis pymm

    We live in N Dorset and both ourselves and our neighbours have had swallows in our car-ports this year (and last year) In fact our swallows have had 2 broods, the latest which are fledging now (Sept 19th). They appear very healthy and happy! We also had a Martins nest that fell to the ground spilling the young chicks out. Fortuneatley I found them before the neighbours cat and rigged up a new nest from a pond basket, some sacking and a plastic microwave cover with a hole cut in it. I attached it to the drain pipe near where the nest was and its been 100% successful, in fact they appear to be quite used to me peering in from time to time. We have an abundance of wildlife here, lots of sparrows too which apparently are declining elsewhere. It could be the air quality causing problems elsewhere; we live on a hill where the air is very clean. I like to think it’s just nature adjusting to evironmental changes: the birds know far more than us!

  12. bob marsden

    hi could anyone tell me when these swallows migrate because i saw three sat sept 19 all the others which we have been seeing about a mile away seem to have gone i and a pal of mine have been who owns the old farm building were we saw them are just curious as to why these three are still here your bob marsden

  13. bob marsden

    hi could anyone tell me when these swallows migrate because i saw three sat sept 19 all the others which we have been seeing about a mile away seem to have gone i and a pal of mine who owns the old farm building where we saw them are just curious as to why these three are still here your bob marsden

  14. Trish Post author

    Hi Bob, It seems there is no one date when swallows migrate. It can depend on the weather here – if the weather is wet and the food is short swallows migrate earlier.
    Saying that, it is strange why these three have not migrated with the others in the area. I don’t have an answer to that. Even if they were young swallows they will still make the journey.

    Keep an eye on them – they should migrate very soon.


  15. beamer

    Don’t worry. I live on the flight path in charente maritime and last 1000’s did a fly pass collected our local swallow population of about 100 who did us the honour of flying twice just above our heads presumably collecting a last feed -although we like to think they were saying goodbye. It was a wonderful 10 minutes when huge flocks were flying, circling -but they were there. I think they rest on the Ile de Re or Oleron.

  16. Trish Post author

    Hi good to hear from you and your interesting story. I know I’m going to learn a lot from you. First, what is a charene maritime?
    Where is the Ile de Re or Oleron? Are you in England?

    How wonderful for you to see all the swallow flocks. Thanks for telling us about it. Trisha

  17. jim

    TO You all , just see this site, and Yes good to see that people do see the Swallows, is it OK if i tell you all ,i have been looking at this Sean , as to see when Swallows ,migrate, So this is From N,Ireland, Sunday 04 10 2009, time 10 30 AM SWALLOWS STILL AT MY PLACE OF WORK ,NOW THERE WAS NO WIND ON THE SUNDAY NIGHT ,BUT THERE IS AND WAS A GOOD FULL MOON, NOW TO DAY MONDAY 05 10 2009 ,I HAVE BEEN AT MY PLACE OF WORK ALL DAY, AND NOT A SWALLOW IN SITE, THE SWALLOWS WENT AWAY AT MY HOME PLACE ABOUT 3 WEEKS A GO, NOW AS YOU WOULD TAKE ABOUT 10 MINUTE TO GET FROM MY HOME PLACE TO MY WORK PLACE, AND THAT IS AROUND 10 MILES APART, SO 10 MILES DOWN THE ROAD NO SWALLOWS, BUT GO 10 MILES UP THE ROAD AND,THERE YOU HAD SOME SWALLOWS, AT THE LATE DATE,ON SUNDAY 04 10 2009, BUT 3 WEEKS BACK FROM THIS DATE AND YOU HAD THE SWALLOWS ,GONE FROM MY HOME PLACE, Number of Nests at my home around twenty five, Work place around Five, hope this is of some Good News for you all, thank you all for now

  18. Trish Post author

    Hi Jim, Great to hear from you. How interesting. I’ve put it on Bird Table News so more people can see it.
    Isn’t it strange how ten miles can make all that difference.

    Trisha, Bird Table News

  19. jim

    Just to say Thank you Trisha, for putting what i said on Bird Table News, and Thank you for your very good time on this, by for now


  20. Clay

    For the past 4 years we’ve had a pair make their nest on our front porch. One year they had 8 young in 2 different hatchings. Last year they appeared on March 18 I can’t wait to see how close they come to that date this year. Also I notice that each year we have more and more birds returning I’m assuming its the babies but they all fly about and sit on the lines but only one pair build a nest. Although at night I’ll find 6-10 sleeping around the nest. One year one baby was not getting fed we fed it wet dog food on a stick with toothpick and it made it to maturity. My little girl thinks their her pets. God has given us so many treasures to enjoy.

  21. Trish Post author

    Thanks for getting in touch. Can I ask where you live? Is it England or America?

    I wonder why the other swallows aren’t building nests. Maybe there is no where else around for them to build nests.
    I wonder if you could put up some swallow nest boxes. Is that possible – then you may be able to see many more swallows nesting. It may even help build up the swallow population. What do you think?
    How wonderful to have them nesting so close to your house. It’s really good that you can see the different broods hatching out.
    March 18th – It will be interesting to see what date they return. It is amazing really isn’t it?

    Thanks for getting in touch hope to hear from you again and hear how the nesting goes. And you are right – there are a lot of treasures to enjoy here. Trisha

  22. theresa dunn

    Hi Trish
    My last baby swallow left yesterday June 22nd./11 They arrived last week in April/11. I was so happy to see them again. My last sight was 2008 on Northern Ontario where I used to live. Their little house was tacked onto our house so close I would talk to them and watch their goings on. We now live in Eastern Ont. ( Ottawa ) since 2009. None last year but in a brand new little house and again tacked close to the patio doors thay arrived in late April and just left yesterday. What a pleasure it was. There were five babies in all and to watch the parents feed and care for them was delightful. Our neighbors came over to see, it was quite a show.

  23. Trish Post author

    Hi, Ontario! I think of swallows as only nesting in England which I know is wrong. But I do think of them as British birds!! Yet I know they migrate.

    How wonderful that people all over the world are interested in swallows.

    You’re lucky that you can get so close. The swallows we’ve had nesting have so many old buildings to choose from we never really know where their nests are.

    You must go to the trouble of putting up a swallow nest box. And you’ve reaped the reward by getting so close to them.


    I wonder what migratory path they will take

  24. Mary

    27th June 2011. wanted to see if anyone else thought that there are very few swallows this year. We only have two or three flying around and no nest this year. We do have a squadron of Swifts (approx 30) screaming round the houses and a pair nest every year in my roof.
    We live by a river and usually see swallows hunting along it and across the water meadows but very few at the moment, probable even fewer House Martins that Sand Martins that also nest along the banks of the river. Perhaps something happened to them at their wintering grounds in Africa as the weather was good when they were migrating. Has anyone out there any information?

  25. Trish Post author

    I haven’t got any information. We don’t have as many swallows as we had years ago.

    This is the first year we haven’t had a dairy herd out at grass. Swallows always followed the dairy herd when they came in for milking. Winging their way around the cows.

    But the number of swallows we have has gone down over the last few years.

    I don’t know the answer

    A reader wrote saying that she had seen a Crow eat a Swift

    Could that be happening with swallows as well?

  26. Abby

    No information Trish butI just wanted to add it has been a good year for barn swallows for us in Cambridgeshire. We had around 12 – 15 returnees, the first flew in early April. The first babies were heard around mid May and they have all been busily breeding and mobbing me when the mood strikes them ever since!

  27. Trish Post author

    Horrah! A good year for swallows in Cambridgeshire.

    It’s must have been great to hear the first babies and know all was well for another year.

    It’s strange how different parts of the country have different swallow numbers.

    There are so many variables in a swallows life that must make a difference to whether it survives or not

    Maybe we should try doing what was done in the 12th Century and tie some parchment round a swallow’s leg to find out where it had been all winter. It worked then – read this


  28. Dennis Pymm

    I live in N. Dorset and I too have noticed fewer Swallows this year. We have had them nest every year in our car-port but the very hot summers have caused problems and this year I don’t think any survived from 2 hatchings. They built their nest high in the roof where it got extremely hot and the chicks fell from the nest, several not surviving; some persevered after we put them back lower down in the roof where there was more ventilation but ultimately I think it’s the extreme heat that is causing the problems. Maybe they are going further north to nest. We had House-Martins last year (2010) the chicks that I saved after their nest fell off the wall the year before (2009); that was very satisfying but they did not return this year. I feel sure the extreme heat is to blame and they are searching out cooler regions.

  29. Trish Post author

    Thank you for sending these details. I think of climate change as being more a worldwide problem, I never think that local weather changes could have an impact on birds. But of course it can.


  30. Abby

    Just wanted to add, I counted, with difficulty :), over 40 swallows on the telegraph line in August by my house, they had also begun to thin out at that time as some left late July. The last pair left late September so it was a very good year for us. I hope next year is even more successful for swallow breeding! How I miss ‘my’ swallows when they leave, it is so quiet without them.

  31. Trish Post author

    Interesting. Spreading out their start of migration from late July to September. I wonder what decides them. their fitness? The weather? Some instinct they are born with

    I know what you mean about the place being quiet when the swallows leave. But we have had fewer swallows for a year or two now. I don’t notice them as much in the summer as there are not many of them, which is a pity.


  32. Abby

    I read somewhere that the first broods leave the earliest, so it might be that. I am so lucky that from spring to early autumn my days are filled with their chattering, it’s very sad that it would appear this is becoming a rarity…

  33. Peter

    We have 3 new swallows nests this year in our summerhouse, which is normal as in previous years. But yesterday the swallows have suddenly disappeared. Is this due to the bad weather? Any eggs laid will not now hatch if they do return. Any views would be welcome.

  34. Trish Post author

    Hello Peter

    I know this weather is bad for nesting birds, but not sure about swallows. When chicks hatch and then the nest gets soaked – that of course means chick deaths.

    I think you are saying that there are only eggs in the nest.

    June should be sunny and warm with insects in the air,but it’s not, so that will be bad for swallows


    the above link says that in wet weather swallows find it hard to find food. But I suppose we all realise that.

    It could be that they didn’t have enough food for themselves and so did not have enough energy. It would be nice if there were supermarkets for birds wouldn’t it?

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