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Do 'our' swallows breed in South Africa?

Sent in by Peter McKendrick, Northumberland

A very topical question, as we make the most of seeing our summer migrants overhead before they head southwards until spring next year. Many have of course long gone, and already arrived in their winter quarters following a fantastic journey of several thousand miles. Swallows and house martins, however, are often feeding young during September so linger awhile until they are all ready to migrate. 

Swallows have a very long journey indeed so will, with luck, have enjoyed a good supply of insects in the UK to enable them to gain weight. They need this to sustain them, as they complete long stretches of their journey without food and water. 

When swallows arrive in their winter quarters, they spend most of their time feeding and probably resting. They do not breed but make the most of the insects which are in abundance there to ensure that they are in tip-top condition for the return journey and another hectic breeding period awaiting them.

Before migration was understood, and because birds such as swallows completely disappeared, it was thought that they buried themselves in thick mud beneath water to sit out winter, surfacing in the spring. Understandable really as there was no trace of them anywhere else. 

We now know much more about the wonder of migration and the remarkable journeys of tiny birds; I'm already looking forward to their return next year.

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