The Barn Swallow is remarkable for the incredibly long migrations that it undertakes every year. Birds from different parts of Europe, migrate southwards to avoid the harsh northern hemisphere winters, and spread across the vast African continent …
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The Remarkable Barn Swallow
The Barn Swallow (hirundo rustica) is one of the world’s most widely distributed and common bird species. It is found throughout much of the world, and can be seen on all of the continents bar Australia. It is a distinctive bird with blue upper parts, a long, deeply forked tail and curved, pointed wings. It is found throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. In English-speaking Europe it is just called the Swallow; in Northern Europe it is the only common species called a “swallow.” In Africa it has been known as the “European Swallow” because of its long migration from northern hemisphere Europe, to deep southern Africa.
The Barn Swallow is remarkable for the incredibly long migrations that it undertakes every year. Birds from different parts of Europe, migrate southwards to avoid the harsh northern hemisphere winters, and spread across the vast African continent to exploit the abundant insects that form the bulk of their food during the African summer. It returns to the northern hemisphere at the beginning of the southern hemisphere winter, and breeds during the northern summer, usually in nests constructed in barns or barn-like outbuildings, hence the common name “Barn Swallow.” Whilst the migration of the Barn Swallow to and from Africa is now well known, this was not always so. The popular belief was that they hibernated.
Migration of Barn Swallows between Britain and South Africa was first established on 23 December 1912, when a bird that had been ringed by James Masefield at a nest in Staffordshire, England, was found in Natal, South Africa. This showed that swallows from Britain migrated to the extreme southern end of Africa.
This first ringing recovery was made in Natal on the east coast of South Africa, at a place known as Umhlanga, a few miles away from a site known as Mount Moreland.
Ringing, or Banding, is the process wherein a bird, in this case a Barn Swallow, is caught, and a uniquely numbered small metal ring is attached to one of its legs, and the bird is released. The released bird goes about its normal life, without hindrance from the ring. A ringing recovery is when a ringed bird is found dead, and the ring is recovered, and the details of where it was found, is reported to the person who originally placed the ring on the bird. A ringing control is when a ringed bird is caught alive by another person at another site, and the details of the ring on the bird’s leg are recorded, and the date, time and location of the capture of the bird are passed on to the person who originally placed the ring on the bird. In a ringing control, the captured bird is released with the ring still attached.