12 September 2014

Swallows fledge young at a natural site

Ian Kerr writes:

A thriving Swallow population has long been a feature of my regular patch on Holy Island, Northumberland and 2014 has proved to be by far the best year since I started nest recording and ringing the species a decade ago.

This year around 75 nests, most of them around the village, harbour and at St Coombs Farm, fledged at least 260 young. Many pairs produced two broods with a small number of nests producing a third brood, although it was impossible to say if the same pairs were involved. Whatever the circumstance, the 2014 breeding season far surpassed the previous record year of 2009 when 56 pairs fledged around 150 young.

Juvenile Swallow - Jill Pakenham

Excitingly, for the first time a pair used a natural site, the first record of its kind for Northumberland. This nest was in a crevice under an overhanging turf at the top of an eroding low boulder clay bank near Emmanuel Head, the eastern most point of our tidal island. At high tides the waves would have been just eight feet below the nest. The nest was discovered by a friend, George Moody, summer warden for Lindisfarne’s Little Tern colony. When I visited the site a few days later these birds had disappeared but there were large amounts of droppings indicating the chicks had fledged. When I climbed up I found a fully-feathered dead chick in the cup which must have perished at about the time its siblings fledged.

The white droppings making this nest more obvious - Ian Kerr

Swallows using natural nesting sites are very rare in Britain although obviously at one time in the remote past they must have been the norm. Keith Bowey knows of a nest in County Durham in the early 1970s which was situated on the side of a horizontal branch on a Beech tree in Sunderland and Martin Davison reported Swallows nesting near the entrance to a sea cave near Oban on the west coast of Scotland. I will certainly be checking the bank site next spring in case these birds return.

Editor's comment - we also heard that Mark Lawrence found two Swallow nests on cliffs in Devon this year. Luckily, he found them in time to ring them!

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