Swallows

Swallows, Swifts & House Martins

Swallows, swifts and house martins are all migrating birds, they often leave for sunny Africa when the British weather drops too cold, but return again in the Spring to feast on our native insects and to nest before heading back again in the winter.

Swift

Swifts

Swifts are a medium-sized aerial bird which rarely ever touches the ground! They eat, drink, mate and sleep in air and they are the fastest bird at flight-level with top speeds of around 69mph – impressive! They are high-fliers and are extremely fast! They spend their lives in the air, from sleeping, to mating and drinking!

 

What do they look like?

Swifts are very recognisable, they have dark brown, sooty coloured feathers, as well as their prominent crescent shaped wingspan! Their forked, short tail is the perfect size for gliding in and out of nesting holes. They have a small bullet-shaped head and you’re more likely to hear them before you see them – they have a very recognisable and ear-piercing high pitched scream! 

Where can I see them?

Swooping and gliding at very high altitudes, there you will see the swift – precise in its movements and extremely nimble! In the morning and evenings they do come lower down and like swallows, can often be seen nesting in colonies which can produce very noisy swift sounds!

Where do swifts nest?

Swift nests often have little slots which lead into cavities within the roof, buildings, or cliffs. They can fly into these at speed with their agile and nimble ways, folding their wings on entry. Inside their nest is very minimal, there is little nesting material. Contrary to popular belief, they do not nest in mud cups like swallows! Swifts mate for life and return annually to their nest, this can be in old churches or derelict buildings but because of our need to renovate and rejuvenate areas, swift nesting sites are declining which has consequently put them on the red list in the 2021 conservation list.

Helping the swifts:

One way to help swifts is to take part in swift surveys and report every time you see one of these magnificent creatures – this can be done by clicking here,  another way you can help is if you know you have swifts in your area, provide a suitable nesting space and nest box to encourage them to take refuge!

Swifts are struggling. In the UK breeding numbers of swifts have dropped significantly, a report from 2017 suggested a loss of 57% in the previous 22 years

Swallows

Swallows

Swallows are small birds with highly recognisable features! They have shiny blue backs and a vibrant red throat, with pale underparts and long tail streamers which help extenuate its forked tail. They can range from 17-19cm long with a wingspan of 32-35cm and weigh only 16-25g – the perfect concoction for an agile and speedy bird!

How to identify swallows:

Swallows have very distictive features, they can be recognised by;

  • Their long, forked tail with long streamers.
  • Vibrant red throat.
  • White underside.
  • Blueish sheen on the back of their heads.
  • Swallow wings are much longer than those of its cousin, the house martin.

Flight:

Darting and gliding low to the ground, or through the treetops – you will hear their chirps and tweets from their perches!

Nesting:

Swallows nest in barns, lean-tos and outbuildings which have dark nooks for them to nest in. Roof beams and ledges are ideal as this provides shelter from the elements. Their nests are cup-shaped and made from mud, this ensures it blends with their surroundings to protect against predators!

Where can I see them?

Flying low to the ground over fields and meadows, normally near lakes, and rivers where lots of insects hide! Swallows are also known to perch on telephone wires and wire fencing but can be found all over the UK from late March to October!

House Martin

House Martin

House martins are mostly active in the morning and evening, they zoom around at mid-height and usually in flocks. They enjoy flying low to water and can often be heard chirruping softly!

House martins are much smaller than swifts and swallows!

Identification:

  • Pure white underside
  • Blue-black upper parts except for the white rump on its back
  • Shorter wingspan than swifts and swallows
  • Forked tail

Flight:

House martins are mostly active in the morning and evening, they zoom around at mid-height and usually in flocks. They enjoy flying low to water and can often be heard chirruping softly!

Nesting:

Like swallows, house martins’ nests consist of lots of mud! They craft these into mud cups which will often situate under buildings and cliffs! Like swallows, house martins like to nest in colonies and can often be found in big groups for protection.

Where can I see them?

Wetlands and lakes are a common place to see house martins, they enjoy preying on flying insects, so the wet and humid areas are their favourite. The hoover up midges, damselflies, and dragonflies as they swoop over the water!

Sadly, swallows, house martins and swifts have seen a decline in numbers in the UK – this is largely to do with the inconsistent weather and also lack of nesting sites for them to breed.



As these glorious birds feast on insects, the weather plays an important part in their journey to the UK, so if the weather is not accommodating to insects, then these birds will likely starve or be too weak to migrate. Another issue is the lack of suitable nesting sites. But that’s where we can help – by providing a swallow, swift or house martin nest in your garden, in a suitable space – you can encourage breeding pairs to stay and help repopulate the species. These nest boxes mimic their natural choice so they’ll feel right at home.

Check out our available nest boxes here!

Swallow, Swift and House Martin Products