The swallow’s migratory journey is amazing. It arrives usually around mid-April, having flown 6,000 miles from its winter home in southern Africa.
Then one day - probably towards the end of September - we will look up and see that their wires are deserted. Some groups will stay until October and may be shivered into sudden departure by the first frost. The return journey to southern Africa takes about six weeks. They travel down through western France and eastern Spain crossing the
Mediterranean at the narrowest point in the vicinity of Gibraltar and on into Morocco whilst high above them the skies will be filled with gliding cranes, storks and birds of prey. Ahead lies the Sahara - a long haul of several hundred miles which can last for two days or more with little opportunity for rest, water or food. Next is the Congo rainforest – and they will finally reach South Africa and Namibia. They migrate during daylight, flying quite low and covering about 200 miles each day. At night they roost in huge flocks in reed-beds at traditional stopover spots. And since swallows feed entirely on flying insects, they don’t need to fatten up before leaving, but can snap up their food along the way. Similarly with drinking - they skim low over water, sipping with open mouths. Sadly many may die of starvation, but if they survive, they can live for up to sixteen years.
Starting on your autumn flight,
Pause a moment at my window,
Twitter softly your good-night;
For the summer days are over,
All your duties are well done,
And the happy homes you builded
Have grown empty, one by one.
Swallow, swallow, neighbor swallow,
Are you ready for your flight?
Are all the feather cloaks completed?
Are the little caps all right?
Are the young wings strong and steady
For the journey through the sky?
Come again in early spring-time;
And till then, good-by, good-by!
Louisa May Alcott