One swallow doesn’t make a summer. But what if there are none at all?
Do you have swallows near you at the moment? I don’t. They’re an unmistakable sign of summer in the UK – but last year I didn’t see any at all from my garden. They’re the sort of thing that are just ‘there’, you don’t particularly notice them – until they’re not.
This year I’ve been looking out for them specially – and I haven’t seen any. This makes me very sad. Very sad indeed.
They’re amazing birds – the swallows that arrive in the UK during the summer have spent our winter in South Africa. To get back here they fly up the west coast of Africa or they cross the Sahara, then they fly across the Mediterranean from Morocco to Spain, across the Pyrenees and into France, before they arrive in the UK.
It’s a hazardous journey, and many die from starvation, exhaustion, or due to storms, even in a normal year.
But – overall numbers have been in decline since the 1970s.
Long-term changes in climate (as opposed to short-term fluctuations in weather) mean that swallows are arriving in the UK in poor condition, which means they’re not laying as many eggs. Which means fewer chicks. Which means fewer adult birds a year from now.
Increased desertification is making the Sahara an insurmountable barrier – basically, it’s getting bigger. Crossing the Sahara was never easy – and year by year it’s getting harder and harder, so fewer and fewer birds are making it.
Our increasingly hotter and dryer summers aren’t helping. Swallows need mud for nest building – if it dries up, they’re stuffed. (Actually, this is something we can do something about – keep an area of your garden permanently damp so that they can use the mud.)
The dryer weather has also affected the insect population, which is the swallows’ food supply. And the insect population is in decline generally – do you remember when any long car journey would mean a bumper and a windscreen covered in bugs? Never happens these days. I’m trying to increase the number of insects in my garden to encourage birds in general, but I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle.
Their nest sites are being destroyed. Swallows return to the same site year after year – so if it gets destroyed, they lose valuable breeding time finding somewhere new.
You can read more about it here.
And it’s not just the swallows – swifts and house martins are in decline as well.
What on earth are we doing to this world of ours?
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