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Can swallows stay in the air for up to two years?

Sent in by Pete Riley

We’ve had two very similar questions sent in to us this week about swallows - those fantastic birds which typify our summers, and are certainly in evidence at the moment.

Our second question came from Tricia Napoli-Mole from Coventry who asked “My husband swears swallows never land. Is this true?”

Swallows fly here each spring from Africa, an epic journey for such small creatures, and they often cover 200 miles a day. 

They have been recorded flying at up to 35mph and their superb navigation skills mean that they return to their same nests each year.  They feed on flying insects and can be seen swooping over farmland or water where these are plentiful. 

They do land though, but not often, and one of their favourite perching spots is telegraph wires where you will recognise them from their dangling tail streamers. The masters of the skies then, or are they?

Swifts or swallows?

The subject of these two questions really ought to be that other summer visitor from Africa: the swift. Now this bird almost never lands and young swifts, which will not breed until their second year, probably never touch down between flying from the nest and returning to breed. 

It seems exhausting to us, who are mainly rooted to the ground, but swifts have the perfect shape for this existence. They have long wings and slender bodies and are not encumbered by long legs or tail. In fact, they are not adapted to being on the ground at all and when one does land it is purely by accident and they usually need help. 

Breeding birds will sleep in the nest, and what a relief that must be. Otherwise they sleep on the wing - the only bird known to do this. 

Swifts are magical, mysterious birds, and a true delight to have as a brief summer companion. Sadly, their numbers are in steep decline and there are far fewer screaming through our summer skies.

Please help us to protect them by taking part in our swift survey.

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