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One Swallow does not make a Summer!
Swallows are a group of passerine birds in the family Hirundinidae who have adapted well to feeding whilst in flight. They are found all over the world and breed on all continents except Antarctica. The European and North American Swallows are long-distance migrants and by contrast, the West and South African swallows are non-migratory. Africa has the greatest diversity of the species.
One swallow does not make a summer goes the old saying, but the first sight of this attractive bird with its rapid, swooping flight is a sign that summer is not far away. The swallows we see in Britain and the rest of Europe come back from South Africa where they spend the winter, then they come here to build their nests.
The long forked tail of the swallow is what distinguishes it most obviously from its relative the house martin. The swallow also differs from the house martin in having a chestnut patch on its throat and above its beak and by the colour of its under parts. These are sometimes pink and buff instead of always white like the house martin. Swallows have soft, twittering voices and have short beaks which open very wide.
Swallows have a slender, streamlined body and long pointed wings, which allows for great maneuverability and endurance in flight yet they are capable of walking and even running, but they do so with a shuffling, waddling gait. The Swallow family uses a wide range of habitats. They are dependent on flying insects and as these are common over waterways and lakes they will frequently feed over these, but they can be found in any open habitat including grasslands, open woodland, savanna, marshes, mangroves and scrubland, from sea level to high alpine areas. Many species inhabit human-altered landscapes including agricultural land and even urban areas.
Swallows are excellent flyers, and use these skills to feed and attract a mate. Some species, like the mangrove swallow, are territorial, whereas others are not and simply defend their nesting site. In general, the males select a nest site, and then attract a female using song and flight, and (dependent on the species) guard their territory. The size of the territory varies depending on the species of swallow; in colonial-nesting species it tends to be small, but it may be much larger for solitary nesters. Outside the breeding season, some species may form large flocks, and species may also roost communally. This is thought to provide protection from predators such as sparrowhawks and hobbies. Non-social species do not form flocks, but recently fledged chicks may remain with their parents for a while after the breeding season. If a human gets too close to their territory, swallows may attack them within the perimeter of the nest.
At the end of September swallows gather together in flocks before setting off to warmer countries. They perch on buildings and high wires with ease while waiting to leave. The young birds which have hatched late are the last to leave.
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