The crazy journey of a British swallow

Busy Lizzie @

Look! Up in the sky! Is it a bird? Is it a... yes, it’s a bird... a swallow, in fact! The 9th of October marks World Migratory Bird Day, where hundreds of thousands of birds across the UK will be packing their beaks and dusting off their wings, ready to fly to their Winter holiday destination of choice.

“Why do they come to the UK?”

Swallows visit the UK during the Summer, as our climate and food source is perfect for breeding the next generation of swallow fledglings. Each to their own - the UK isn’t exactly my first choice for a Summer holiday! But their UK visit is quite short lived, because by early September, they’re getting ready to leave our shores and travel all the way down to South Africa!

“Why do they leave?”

When the UK’s temperature drops, small insects hide away for hibernation. Small insects are actually a swallow’s meal of choice, but I’d probably go for a Sunday roast… Anyway, without any food available, swallows must go somewhere where there’s plenty of creepy crawlies to snack on, else they’ll have to face a very cold and very hungry Winter. Their Winter destination of choice is Africa (now that’s a holiday I can agree with!) as warmer temperatures mean more food freely flying about. 

“What happens on their journey?”

Swallows are pretty impatient birds! When it’s time to set off, they flutter about restlessly, and often gather on telegraph wires to wait for the rest of their flock. Sounds just like a Mosley family holiday, there’s always someone running late and holding the rest of us up!

Swallows from different parts of Europe fly to different destinations in Africa, but in true British fashion, ours love a good challenge and head for the very south, approximately 6000 miles away - the same amount of miles it would take to walk all the way around the UK’s coast! They must be exhausted! They usually return to somewhere they’ve already nested (ahh, there’s no place like home) and find their way back by following visual landmarks! It’s funny to think that somewhere, a tired swallow mum will be telling her fledglings “look, we’ve just passed the Egyptian pyramids, we’re halfway there!”

Because they travel super long distances, migratory birds also undertake the very important job title of global pollinators, moving seeds and nutrients across the world. In fact, the seeds of over 90% of all woody tree species are moved around by birds - what an eco-friendly bunch!

“Are there any risks on this journey?”

It’s not just a jolly holiday for our British sparrows, these brave birds actually face some pretty scary dangers along the way...

  • Bad weather - storms and high winds can blow these swallows off course, where young fledglings and inexperienced birds often get lost. They don’t have Google maps, do they?
  • Predators - birds of prey are familiar with the routes these migrants take each year, so they take a front row seat and wait for smaller fledglings to wander away from mum where they can attack!
  • Collisions - when man made objects such as lighthouses, skyscrapers and radio masts pop up directly on a migrant’s flight path, the builders can’t exactly send a letter out to all of the swallows to warn them!
  • Disruption to ecosystems - swallows still need places to rest at night and gather food, but if locations once perfect for a quick stopover are now unsuitable for habitation due to effects of climate change or human pollution, they’ll need to search for a new resting place, which will use up more of their precious energy. Their little wings have already been working overtime on their migration journey!

If they survive this crazy biannual journey, swallows can live for up to 16 years - plenty of time to explore the world!

Enough chirping about swallows! I bet you wouldn’t have guessed I knew so much about them, would you? I think I relate to them in some way - I love escaping to warmer climates too!

We work with the RSPB to help keep these amazing swallows safe on their journey. When you purchase our charity Bird 1 or Bird 2 Hug Rugs, we donate 10% of the profit to the lovely folk at the RSPB, who use your precious donation to fund the conservation of their gorgeous reserves, which help provide safe habitats for our feathered friends.

Busy Lizzie x