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Last babies have gone!



It's always slightly sad to see our Swallows leave the Hook Norton area for their migration to South Africa. Their common migration route takes them through western France, across the Pyrenees, down eastern Spain into Morocco, and across the Sahara. Some birds follow the west coast of Africa avoiding the Sahara, and other European swallows travel further east and down the Nile Valley. The birds cover approximately 200 miles a day at average speeds of 17-22 miles per hour. They do not store fat prior to their migration, but fly by day at low altitudes, finding their sustenance on the way. Frequently, there is a lack of food and this means the birds are vulnerable to starvation during these crossings. Its a hazardous time and many birds will die from said starvation, exhaustion and by being caught in violent storms.


This year has been a fairly good breeding season around Hook Norton. The hot weather did create a problem in that initially there were very few areas of mud which is needed by the birds to build and make repairs to nests. Here at Nill Farm Cottages we carry buckets of water out to an area that we know the swallows use for mud collecting, thus helping the nest building. The hot weather did help insects flourish which meant more food availability. After the initial lack of mud issues for other local colonies, it seems that most local pairs did manage 2 broods and most of ours managed to have 3 broods, though I always worry that the last broods must really struggle on their migration, with, I suspect, most of the youngsters not being robust enough to complete their journey.


Towards the end of September, our local swallows were flocking together, which they do for a few evenings before they set off on their epic migration. I counted a conservative 180 birds, showing what a good breeding season 2022 has been. The last few broods stayed around for another 10 days or so before they too left for their wintering grounds.


Unfortunately, despite the last few years showing good breeding here in Hook Norton, the numbers returning each year are still declining. In 2021 at Nill Farm Cottages, a total of 47 birds fledged. For a variety of reasons, these numbers do then decrease slightly over the days following fledging, but there were still plenty of youngsters left to migrate. Each year, about 44 percent of all swallows will return to nest in the same area they nested the previous year, so it is concerning that only 7 birds returned to us this year.


Let us hope that come spring 2023, we will have a greater number of swallows returning to nest, so that we can again enjoy watching these beautiful birds on our swallow watch evenings!



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