Barn Swallow rescued after falling from nest ….so here’s little Scruff the Barn Swallow!  He’s had an enormous breakfast (I resorted to tiny bits of raw mince, as the crickets seem to have taken themselves off to a distant part of the field?!), and there’s been much preening and wing flapping again, as well as having a little walk around; now having a doze…2 days later he was fully recovered and fledged and flew away safely.
Best wishes Ros

Barn Swallow fledgling June 2015

USA. PA: I have tons of barn swallows.  One couple has claimed my porch.  A few days ago 3 babies were born.  I have been watching them and noticed something I never seen before.  Both parents feed the babies. but the babies regurgitate a white substance which is viewed as Abnormalities.  The parent then takes it away.  It’s a yucky thing to see. Do you have any idea what this is?  Are they sick?  or is it just something baby swallows do? Michelle
I wrote to Barn Swallow expert Anders Pape MØLLER for his input, here is his reply:
I have never heard about this or seen anything similar before. To me this sounds like a toxic or unpalatable prey item that the young try to get rid of. All the best, Anders

USA: Every spring, barn swallows return to our Loveland, CO neighborhood and settle in the mud nest above our front porch. I’m devastated because this year two different “couples” tried to settle there but something has killed all four of them. The first couple was killed about two weeks after they came to the nest, then a few months passed and the other couple settled there. About a month after, they were killed. Whatever is killing them decapitates the bird, leaves the body for a few hours, then takes the body away (unless something else is taking the bodies). The dead bodies are usually on top of our roof and I’ve never seen them taken, they’re just gone a while later. We had an owl this winter in the neighborhood but we haven’t seen or heard it all spring/summer long. There are bald eagles on the other side of our neighborhood but we’ve never seen them flying near our home. There are no cats (domestic or feral) in the area, plus, other swallows are doing fine nesting on the porches of some of our neighbors.

It’s all very upsetting to me, every year we’ve seen baby birds and I love to show my little girl the birds at night when the entire family is huddled in the nest. Let me know if you might have a theory. Thank you! Alisa
I wrote to Barn Swallow expert
Anders Pape MØLLER for his input, here is his reply:
Lots of animals make life difficult for swallows. These include falcons, hawks, barn owls, rats, martens and many others. If this happened at night, most likely it was rats or owls. If it was rats or martens, the best protection is to spray chili pepper on the rim of the nest – mammals do not like that, but birds do not mind and it is cheap.
All the best, Anders

mid-west United States : I live in the country and for the last 20 years have had barn swallows nest on our house and barn.  In the past they arrive about May and leave early fall.  Last year we had five mud nests on the house and garage with dozens more in the area – on power lines, etc..  This year we have only seen four.  There is one nesting pair that have returned, but that is all.  There are none others flying over the pond, on the power lines or seen anywhere.  Do you have any idea why?  Thank you for any ideas.

REPLY: There are a number of reasons for a small return
1) they may still be coming……….they left the Southern hemisphere later than usual and with good weather on route they would be in no hurry
2) Food, if there is less insect activity then there will be fewer swallows
3) We have noted weather pattern changes (Global warming), this in turn impacts on the insects
4) Severe weather in close proximity, they sense this and will seek safer quarters
This is nature and it does change constantly, that is what keeps us watching, questioning, wondering and interested
Enjoy the pair that have returned, they are such a joy to have at one’s home

Migration, moult and climate change in Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica in South Africa

Anders Pape Møller1,*, Rick Nuttall2, Steven E. Piper3,†, Tibor Szép4,
Edward J. Vickers

1Laboratoire d’Ecologie, Systématique et Evolution, CNRS UMR 8079, Université Paris-Sud, Bâtiment 362,
91405 Orsay Cedex, France
2National Museum, PO Box 266, Bloemfontein 9300, South Africa
3School of Biological and Conservation Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Private Bag X01, Scottsville 3209,
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
4Institute of Environmental Science, College of Nyíregyháza, PO Box 166, 4401 Nyíregyháza, Hungary
5Mount Moreland, Durban, South Africa


ABSTRACT: Phenological change in long-distance migratory birds responded less to climate change than that in short-distance migrants and residents. A general lack of information about the timing of migration in the winter quarters has prevented progress in interpreting the causes. Here we report long-term information on first arrival of barn swallows Hirundo rustica to—and last departure from—a major roost in South Africa during 1993–2010, a period when climate change at the breeding grounds was particularly pronounced. Although first arrival in autumn advanced by more than 2 wk, there was a tendency for a delay in last departure during spring, suggesting that cues for earlier spring departure from the winter quarters were missing. During 1999–2009, timing of moult was delayed, which may explain why spring migration by trans-Saharan migratory birds did not advance in this period.

Deformed Barn Swallow with Abnormalities By Peter John

 It is clear something’s wrong. Looks to me Abnormalities like the body feathers have grown into beak area. They are dark brown in colour from the normal chestnut

Barn Swallow deformed
Barn Swallow deformed
Barn Swallow deformed
Barn Swallow The worlds Best Known Migrant By Andrew Pickles 

adult Barn SwallowThe Barn Swallow, or as it was previously known the European Swallow, is a widespread and common summer visitor to Southern Africa. It is often regarded as the announcer of spring/summer in both the northern and southern hemispheres; it is also one of most well known migrants in the world, which in a way makes it one of the most studied birds in the world, so why do we still study them, the answer to this is simple – they are an amazing little bird and through these studies Abnormalities have been recorded.

 Most of the work is done in their breeding grounds in Europe, and generally only ringing is done in Southern Africa. I started doing ringing at Mt. Moreland where the roost hosts 3 million birds during the Southern African summer 3 seasons ago, primarily to try and find out more about the movements of these birds before the new King Shaka International Airport opened in 2010, however once you start you just get more and more involved and things can progress at an alarming rate which is what has happened this past season with a roost at Umzumbe on the KZN South Coast which hosts 1.5 million swallows. Recently I have also been studying the recapture data of the Barn Swallows from the SAFRING database. This has shown some very interesting movements of the birds in Southern Africa. It seems to confirm some suspicions that we have had regarding the roosting sites north of Cape Town.

 The analysis of the data was time consuming and entailed sifting through in excessBarn Swallows in Mist Nets of 900 records. The first step was to calculate the time elapsed from ringing to recapturing this allowed me to separate out a couple of hundred records of birds that were recaptured during the same season at the same site, Although it sounds irrelevant it at least shows that they remain at the same site throughout the season. I was also able to establish the oldest bird on the system which happened to be a swallow ringed in Durban at the Kwa Mashu Sewage works on 11th December 1966 it was recaptured in Durban North on the 4th December 1975, 3280 days (over 8yrs) later with the distance between the two ringing sites being 8km’s. This bird has however covered around 160 000 km’s on migration alone (2 journeys a year of about 10 000km’s per journey). I was also able to obtain migration times for the birds with the quickest time being 27 days from ringing to recapturing, the bird was ringed in the Hawaan Forest area of Umhlanga rocks on 12th April 1970 and recaptured in Whitley Bay, England on the 9th May 1970 with a straight line distance between the two points of 9915km’s. The second quickest was a bird ringed in Johannesburg and recaptured in Leninsk, Russia 34 days later with a distance of 10 548km’s. We must also remember that the birds never left on migration the day they were ringed and in all likelihood were not recaptured on the day they arrived. The northward migration is always quicker than the southerly migration, the reason for this is a natural instinct I refer to as “The need to Breed”. On the southerly migration there is no need to arrive here as quick as possible and reclaim your nesting site and partner. 

 My next step was to calculate the distance traveled for all the birds also showing some very interesting data, with birds being recaptured the day after being ringed a distance of 54km’s from the ringing site, this was for quite a few birds giving a good indication of the daily feeding range of the birds. I was also able to see the greatest distance on a single migration was a bird ringed in Zeekoevlei, Cape Town and was recaptured near Krasnozerskoye, Russia with a distance traveled of 11384km’s.  

 After all of this I looked at the birds ringed within Southern Africa at the start of theBarn Swallow View Site - Mt Moreland Swallow season and recaptured later in the same season, showing that some of the birds ringed in the northern roosts in the region finished up at the southern roosts, giving a clear indication that the swallows use the large roosts on their migration south. This alone could be a worrying factor as any disturbance or damage to these roosts could cause problems for the southern birds on their migration, a point that is very relevant with the opening of the King Shaka Airport near Durban. The runway of which finishes 2.6km’s away from the reed beds at Mt. Moreland. In defense of the airport a bird strike radar has been installed and if used correctly should prevent any bird strikes from happening. 

 The 3 seasons of ringing at Mt. Moreland has allowed the ringing of well over 1000 swallows to date with only one recapture of a foreign ringed bird, although not the return most people would expect, it is still extremely rewarding considering the size of the roost. Most roosts that achieve high returns are either small roosts of less than 30 000 Swallows or large roosts of birds in a very small area. Mt Moreland unfortunately does not match any of these criteria with an estimated 3 million Swallows and a reedbed covering 35.5 hectares. The site has in the past been used by overseas Barn swallow researchers, the 2 most notable being Prof. Anders Pape Moller, who was also used in the EIA process for the new airport, and Dr. Tibor Szep, as well as some local ornithologists like the late Professor Steve Piper. The sight of such a huge number of birds circling before plummeting into the reed bed of an evening is aw-inspiring and should be on everybody’s list of sites to visit, the viewsite is open every evening during the swallow season from mid October to mid April, for information and directions visit the website at  

 Our one recapture to date was a bird ringed in Nilsia – Finland on 27 July 2008 and we recaptured it on 13 December 2008. The bird was ringed as a nestling bird and was already starting to show the odd reddish feather on the throat at the time of recapture. Another bird that we ringed the day before has recently been found dead at Kirovograd in southern Ukraine. This bird coincidentally was found on the same day (1st May 2010) that the new airport that threatens their existence at the “largest swallow roost in South Africa” opened. The question is was this bird from the Ukraine or was it heading further north. 

Barn Swallow showing missing leg In addition to the Mt. Moreland roost I have recently started ringing at the Umzumbe Roost on the KZN South Coast. This roost host’s about 1.5 million Barn Swallows every evening, the roost which is not accessible by vehicle and only accessible by crossing the Umzumbe River on foot is under no threat and hopefully will be utilized for many a year to come. My ringing site here is 900m from the roost (too great a distance to carry all the equipment to the reedbed, also security reasons for the vehicle) so has proved quite a difficult site to ring, but recent sessions since starting at the site has added another 589 captures in 6 weeks to the data base. The birds captured here have thrown up some very interesting questions. 2 of the swallows had only one leg each, a most unusual find in these birds, Barn Swallow Uneven Tail Streamersaccording to Anders Pape Moller (University Pierre & Marie Curie, Paris, France) he has only recorded this in 2 birds of the tens of thousands of birds he has ringed. After studying a paper that was written by Anders along with T.A.Mousseau (Department of Biological Studies, University of South Carolina, U.S.A), F. de Lope (Universidad de Extremadura, Avda, Spain) and N. Saino (Universita degli Studi di Milano, Italy), of a study done after the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, the study started in 1991 and finished in 2006. Here it was noted that the Barn Swallows odds of disabilities and defects rose dramatically. Among the problems were missing legs, deformed beaks, bent and uneven tail streamers and partial albinism or leucistic feathers. The number of swallows with one or two white feathers mixed amongst their blue and red feathers is about 2%, at Chernobyl this rose upwards of 15% of the birds during the study period, another site or control site was used in the Ukraine approximately 220km’s away. It was also noted that a large number of birds developed a reddish colour on the belly, more common in the Ukraine than elsewhere, this however cannot be solely attributable to the Chernobyl Disaster as an interbreed between different sub species of swallow occurs, about 5% of the Ukraine’s population shows this trait, whereas in western Europe the number is down to 1%. The study showed that the swallows had a higher birth defect rate than any other part of Europe.

 The Umzumbe roost has now started to ask questions as to where a lot of these birds breed in Europe, due to the high number of birds with the odd white feather where it should not be, the 2 birds with only one leg, a large number of swallows with inconsistent tail streamers along with the reddish underparts could lead us to suspect that these swallows are from the Ukraine and in particular from the Chernobyl area. In total 12% of the birds ringed at Umzumbe have shown variations in leucistic feathers, tail streamer problems and the 2 one-legged birds. In addition to this the colour variation on the belly ranging from pale reddish to reddish occurred in 27% of the birds ringed. We do know that birds from the Ukraine have been recaptured in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Lake Kariba, Gabarone, Harare and Durban, unfortunately ringing is not as common in the Ukraine as it once was but we can only wait and see if the current data can be proven.

 Considering the distance between the Umzumbe and Mt. Moreland Roost’s is 120km a variation in colour between the birds at each site could be used as a study roost (Umzumbe) and a control roost (Mt. Moreland). All birds were handled, ringed and colour graded by myself to get a consistent colour coding. The birds were sorted into 4 different categories of colour on the belly, the first was what we expect on the birds and that is white, the second I called Buffy where the feathers were almost a dirty white, the third I called Abnormalities Pale Reddish and these feathers had a definite reddish colour to them but not a deep red colour, the fourth variation was classified as dark reddish and these birds had a more even reddish colour on the belly and just a little lighter shade to the red on the throat. 

Umzumbe Roost Mt. Moreland Roost
White Belly 52.40% 71.70Barn Swallow leucistic feather in red%
Buffy Belly 20.60% 20.75%
Pale Reddish Belly 21.60% 5.66%
Dark Reddish Belly 5.4% 1.89% 

 Over the years I have realized that the Barn Swallow can be used to indicate impending changes in the weather. How they can sense this only they will know but two instances are worth noting. The first being 8 years ago when during February the swallows near Port Shepstone were behaving as if it was time to migrate (at least 4 to 6 weeks early) they were sitting on telephone lines and having a feeding frenzy over the sugar cane, the next day they had all disappeared. At the time you think that is strange, however that evening a storm hit the South Coast uprooting trees and lifting roofs off houses, somehow the birds sensed the change in the pressure and moved north early to avoid the storm. The second instance was in November 2009 at Mt. Moreland, we ringed on the Friday and Saturday evenings where good numbers of birds were caught, but on going through the data it could be seen that most birds had not started their primary feather moult, normally by this stage they should be onto the third or fourth feather (as seen from previous seasons). On the Sunday evening very few birds came into roost, then on the Monday even less arrived, then on the Tuesday very wet and cold weather arrived and lasted for 5 days. Once the weather had warmed up and the food supply was again present the swallows arrived back in their usual numbers and in December we noted that they had started to moult their primary feathers. In both cases this begs the question as to how they could sense the change in the weather, and does this influence their migration.