Posted: Wednesday 13 August 2014
by Richard Jones

The East Dulwich swifts have gone, and the south London air is all the emptier for the lack of their falsetto screams.


The East Dulwich swifts have gone, and the south London air is all the emptier for the lack of their falsetto screams. But those lucky enough to have swallows can still enjoy the mad aerial frolics of these most athletic of birds.
I somehow always associate swifts with cities and swallows with the open countryside, but this is really just my limited experience. Either bird seems just as likely to take up residence under the eaves.
Although I see swallows from time to time on my travels about the UK, I most readily find them if I’m on holiday in France. Here they seem to spend all their time zooming at waist-height above the sunny hayfields, careening around the charolais cattle, or dipping down into the swimming pool to take a skimmed beakful of water. I’ve also noticed them nesting high up in the ancient houses around some picturesque village centre.
So I was particularly pleased to have the opportunity for close-up observation in the car park of one of the aires de repos on the A26, Autoroute des Anglais, on our final leg through France on Monday. The adult birds were wheeling and zipping about in the hot air above the tarmac, then dashing back to the nest at opportune moments to feed the chicks.
The most opportune moments were when someone exited the toilettes, and before the next visitor went in. At this tiny motorway stopping point there were only three or four cars at any time, so the place was virtually deserted. This must have accounted for the birds’ brave decision to nest so openly, at head height, right against the new metalwork between the two doors.

Swallow nest in toilet

The three chicks regarded us mutely as we took the prerequisite snaps, but as soon as our backs were turned, a parent darted in. Now all sibling hell broke loose as they squabbled over the next nutritious insect morsel to be stuffed down their gaping throats.

So now I still associate swifts with cities, but swallows will from hence forth be inextricably linked, in my mind, to public toilets.

Thanks to Ray Kennedy / RSPB Images for kind permission to use their lovely image.

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philip4 05/09/2014 at 16:29

always sad to see the swallows and house martins gathering for the long flight home.it can get into october depending on the weather earlier if the weather turns in september.i look out for the swallows in early april and the nesting activities.house martins building nests under the eves none stop activity.to watch the swifts skimming the hay fields(sorry going back in time silage fields i should have said)the red arrows have nothing on them.