Swallows (Hirundo rustica) are an annual visitor to the UK, arriving in the summer to breed and migrating to Africa for the winter. They are very distinctive birds with a long forked tail, red forehead and chin. For more identification tips click here. They are most frequently encountered in open countryside and farmland where there are plenty of flying insects for them to eat. Swallows are particularly fond of catching flies, usually catching them in the air.
Swallows nest either in a single pair or in small loose clusters of pairs or colonies. The nests are made from straw bound together with mud and saliva, then lined with feathers. They form a ‘cup’, open at the top from where the chicks can be seen peering over the edge while waiting for food. Nests are usually built inside buildings, for example, in stables, barns, porches, under bridges or accessible loft voids.
Swallows and Developments
As swallows nest in buildings, they can come into conflict with humans wishing to develop their property. For example, the conversion of barns or stables into residential use or the refurbishment of derelict buildings can result in the loss of nest sites for swallows. Swallows should have alternative nest sites provided for them if existing nesting sites will be lost as a result of a development. New builds can be easily enhanced for swallows.
Swallow Nest Site Mitigation
Swallows prefer to nest in covered structures. Provision can be made in open-fronted log-sheds, car ports or porches. Swallow nest cups can be installed in these areas, but beware, if using the latter, droppings can be an issue on cars, front doors or driveways which may be undesirable, particularly on a shiny new build!
Alternatively, a purpose made covered nest box structure can be installed at the ridge of a gable wall or at the eaves of a building.
Another option might be to improve an existing barn for swallows to nest in. For example, by providing them with a covered/enclosed structure containing nest cups.
In the last two examples, creating a door in the side of the box means that the nest cups can be cleaned after the chicks have fledged. This may encourage the swallows to breed again and raise a second clutch in the same year.