Bird Ringing

 The comings and goings of the swifts and swallows near our house has always fascinated me and it seems it has fascinated other bird watchers over the years.

About the 12th Century in Germany a Prior in a Monastery fixed a parchment to a swallow’s leg asking –


‘Swallow where do you live in winter’

The following spring the Prior received the reply attached to the swallow’s leg

‘In Asia, the home of Petrus’.


Amazing.  What a simple idea.  How did the Prior catch the swallow?  Did he expect a reply? 

From that piece of parchment it was discovered that swallows flew from Germany to Asia. 


About 1740 a man called Johann Leonard Frisch tied some wool to swallows’ legs. 

He wanted to find out if the same swallow returned to the same nest year after year. 

The following Spring he found out that they do!


I anticipate the return of the swifts and swallows every Spring and know they return to us from warmer climates.

 I have never considered that  a swallows disappearance may once have been a mystery to people. 

Although I remember I was told  that many years ago people thought that swifts and swallows hibernated in winter!  I didn’t believe that fact, but now wonder if it’s true.

Bird ringing in Britain has been going on since 1937. 

  • Numbered metal rings which carry a return address are used. 
  • The records are put on a computer and stored using an international standard method of recording.

Here are two amazing facts have been found by bird ringing.

  • A swallow has been recorded as covering nearly a quarter of a million miles on its migration journies.  This was over a period of 16 years.  A 16 year old swallow!

It’s interesting to see what happened in the past.

  • In 1963 during the cold winter a redwing flew 2,400 miles in three days searching for food. 

Birds still search for food.  We cannot help swallows but we can help other birds. – so help a bird.  Feed a bird!

2 thoughts on “Bird Ringing

  1. Robin Dulake

    ‘Our’ swallows nest in the porch, we watch them through the glass window & use the back door for 4-5 months; but if I have to use their door I whistle, and have been delighted to hear the nestlings singing back to me this year; they fly round me in the veg garden unafraid.
    Arriving late this year Ist May, nest building began 9 May, first hatch 22 June, five young, first flight 9 July; second family of 3 hatched by 27th August, first flight 2 Sept. Now the weather is wild, colder, & strong winds, the young sit on the beanpoles or in the porch;how late can they safely leave? Their many cousins at the barn down the lane & the 5 older siblings have gone, how does a second family fare migrating alone?
    Last year the parents left the second family which had just hatched, to die, and flew off; at least the parents survivied. I had to take the nest away, too sad.
    Does anyone know if the Swallow festival still happens in Rhodes, Patrick Leigh Fermour remembers it? To celebrate the return of swallows each year children dress up in cloaks, black back, white front, & run through the streets carrying poles with carved swallows on the top.
    There is still so much to learn about swallows, tho we have moved on from the idea that they hid in the mud over winter!
    Thankyou so much for this website, fascinating.

  2. Trish Post author

    How wonderful to have a nest so close and how amazing you go to the trouble of using your back door for nearly half of the year. But I bet it’s worth it.

    I have never been close to a swallow. We see them high on the wires and zipping about high in the air, but never see any nests, so you are very lucky. And to have young swallow nestlings singing back to you is something you should record. I bet no one else has that happen to them
    Thanks for all the information about the dates.

    Very sad about the young swallows that are left. I suppose they have to face nature, whereas we are shielded from nature by Supermarkets and shelter + other things. It’s still sad to think of a young swallows life coming to an end, when if circumstances had been different they had the inbuilt ability to fly to a warm climate.

    Robin, thank you for sending all this interestesting, moving and informative information

    Does anyone know if there is a Swallow Festival?

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