So the summer has come to a close whether we like it or not, and with the end of the long and sunny days (sometimes!), comes an end to natures family making as well. The Swallows in particular have exploited any nooks and crannies available to nest their young. A local stables has a thriving Swallow population that comes back each summer from Africa, and this year I have been photographing the families, observing the behaviour, and intently tracking their progress as the chicks attempt to fledge the nests.
Any Swallow mother and father in these stables requires vigilance, determination, and a fierceness that will ward off the Magpies in the area looking for an easy snack. Swallow chicks are plentiful with tens of nests in these stables, and so these children provide a nice meal for any scavenger able to avoid the wrath of the swallow parents. Although the Magpie is well over twice the size of the swallows however, this proves rather difficult. The presence of a Magpie around a Swallow nest is made apparent to all, as the rippling and churring chatter of the Swallow parents changes into a sharp, shrill, and shaking screech. The doting parents immediately turn into bombers, swooping and gliding and diving on the Magpie. On one encounter a younger looking Magpie was found at the helpless and unyielding end of a Swallow attack, cowering as multiple parents joined in on protecting their chicks from the scavenger. There is no doubt that Magpies are fatal to any chick within its reach, but for the Magpie, getting so close may sometimes be all too difficult.
If the Swallow parents are able to ward off predators, the sons and daughters will be ready to fledge the nest and clumsily explore the world outside the nest. One morning we came to the yard to be distracted by a number of siblings ready to fledge the nest. One brave individual had already ventured out of his nest, to nearly crash into us, before desperately clinging to walls, becoming entangled in a cloak of dusty cobwebs, and eventually fall onto a window ledge nearby. The parents would chatter away to their child, encouraging him and giving him every bit of available advice that may help him. Watching them fly as if learning to ride a bike that has recently had the stabilizers removed. Each flap would tilt the unstable body from one side to the other, as the fledgling would clumsily meander its way through the sky. It would not be long before the youngsters could carve their way through the sky like a knife through butter, but until then the fledglings would be very vulnerable to the Magpie who was searching for breakfast.
Should the fledglings make it this far in life, they could learn to soar through the skies, catch food, and communicate with extended family members before setting off on their treacherous voyage. The birds began to leave in early September, but this year’s fledglings have remained for around 3 weeks after their parents set off to Africa. The return journey will take about six weeks, and the final destination of the Swallow will depend on where in Europe they come from. It has been found that these birds are so good at reliably flying along a similar flight path each year from their first migration, unguided by the parents, because there are certain genes involved in determining where the bird will fly to. The Swallows will travel down through western France and eastern Spain from the UK into Morocco. The birds will then cross the Sahara desert and the Congo rainforest, finally reaching their home for the winter. Travelling 200 miles each day, let’s hope that the birds are currently well on their way to a good few months holiday in the sun.