Birdwatch: this spring, I mourn the lost domestic swifts | Birds


As it weaves its way through the spring sky, sweeping up tiny insects, the house swallow’s contrasting dark blue and white plumage reminds me of a miniature version of a killer whale.

But not this year. Although I caught up with virtually every other spring arrival – even late-returning swallows and swifts – I’ve only seen a handful of house swallows, and none so far in my Somerset village.

I am not the only one to deplore their absence. On our village’s Facebook page, in the excitement of the Jubilee festivities, several of my neighbors have noticed that this spring, on the houses that have housed house swallows for many years, there are no nests.

There are several reasons for the decline of these birds. One is the huge drop in the number of flying insects, their staple diet. Another is that some people don’t appreciate being woken up by their sociable chatter and so remove the nests every winter – incredibly, it’s still not against the law. Finally, they can suffer from problems such as habitat loss on their African wintering grounds.

If we knew where house swallows spend the winter, then we could be sure. Hopefully, very soon, we can place tiny tracking devices on these global travelers and find out where they are actually going. So, finally, we may be able to secure the future of this charismatic little bird.

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