Hirundines are a family of the birds that contains the Swallows and the Martins { but not the Swifts} in the Order of Passeriformes.

                " The bird's flight seems ever a joy; he seems to contract his wings with delight, giving a few quick wing beats, and leaping into the air, which he seems to embrace with passion"                                                                                P. Emerson 

                                    HISTORICAL FACTS ON HIRUNDINES 

 Piny { Gaius Plinius Secundus}, 23AD-79AD known as Pliny the Elder or Simply Pliny,  was an author, naturalist and navel and army commander of the Roman Empire, is often referred to when natural history is the subject. he wrote of the Hirundines---" Hirundines build a nest of mud, and strengthen them with straw, and if there is a scarcity of mud, they sprinkle a good store of water from their feathers on the dust, which is thus moistened. Their is another sort of Hirundine of the country and fields which rarely build their nest in houses, it is of a different shape, but of the same material and facing wholly upwards, having entrances prolonged into a strait with a capacious belly.It is wonderful how skilfully they are adapted for concealing their young, and soft for them to lie upon"  

{Pliny was probably referring to the species Hirundine rufula, which builds a flask shaped nest against a cliff, it is now called Cecropis dauria the red rumped swallow }, Pliny goes on to say " There is another kind of Hirundines which bore holes in banks and breed within the holes. They make no nest and migrate many days before, if it be likely that the stream in flood should reach them { Sand Martin}.

In the days of William Turner 1544 he notes " Aristotle" { The Greek philosopher 384BC-322BC} " makes only three kinds of Hirundines, those of the house, the Apodes { which are the unrelated swifts} and the Falculae. Yet Plint seems to make four kinds, those of the house Rusticae, Apodes, Falculae and Ripiaria. If that be true our house swallows well known for their blood red breast, will be the first named kind."

"The other haunts our roofs, nor hath the marks of slaughter yet departed from its breast, and the plumage is stained with blood."


Hirundo rustica.

Photograph courtesy of Jono Leadley  CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

A section from the book " The birds, beasts and fishes of the Norfolk broadlands" {1895} 

 In his book named above, P Emerson writes of the swallow---

" The English call the first kind swallow, and the German's eynschwalb. Their form and twittering add life and grace and elegance to the broads and marsh lands. When the swallow comes he is the most patent outward and visible sign of the coming of spring, a promise of flowers and love and hawthorn sprinkled lanes. The swallow never comes until the midges are dancing over dikes and sappy marsh plants. it is remarkable how regularly a few swallows and house martins arrive and then follows a lull of a fortnight before the main body come over"

" A day in early spring you will see the handsome swallow flying over water in search of midges. As the sun gains strength and insect life increases they leave the waters and hawk over the marsh grasses, for moths, or along white roads. All through hawthorn blossomed June and into July they are nursing, for they raise two broods. Whilst one is sitting the other is abroad feeding on moths startled by mowers from coarse swathes of marsh grasses, or flies hovering over reed beds, or dead flies blown into the water and washed leeward by the wind, or upon flies darting over the hot sand hills."



Young swallows in the nest, almost ready for flight.

The copyright to this photograph belongs to site member Ste Bond. 

P. Emerson { 1895 }continued---

" You can hear their pleasant little 'pheets' as late as half past nine on a summer's night as they hunt along the dozing trees and hedgerows. The young remain in the nest until they are good fliers, then they venture into the unknown; but not altogether, for some leave the nest sooner than others, and at this season you may see four or five young swallows sitting together on a bramble or old rail. Still the old birds hunt for them, and you may see the young fly up to meet their parents, taking the food from them in the air, among much twittering, returning to their perches, where they sit in solemn silence whilst the parents hunt about them filling their crops with flies."

" And so from daylight till late at night they eat and grow, and by the time the equinoctial gales begin to blow they are prepared for their sea voyage. In September you may see hundreds of them on the lee side of a house or barn, waiting for a suitable wind ere they launch upon the journey, often flying straight up into the cool air ere for foreign shores." 

" And the world is young and green and full of promise, a deep contentment possessing the beholders mind of all dancers, the swallows, the aerial dancers, are the most graceful, the loveliest. Yet men and cats kill them, one for " sport " or to decorate their women-kinds hats, the other for " sport " too, for they do not eat them"

Baby swallow

Common or Barn swallow Courtesy of Andreas Trepte CC BY-SA 2.5 License

Hirundo rustica -description

The plumage is blue back above and on the breast band, forehead,chin and upper throat chestnut, rest of under parts varying individually from a rufous buff to cream, wing tips are blackish brown. The forked tail is spotted white. The bill is black as are the legs. Males have longer tail streamers than the females.

Swallows lay four to five eggs, which are incubated by the female, occasionally by the male, for 17-19 days. They fledge in 20-22 days. Two broods are raised. the young are capable of breeding themselves at one year old.

Eggs of the swallow.

Courtesy of Didier Descouens CC BY-SA 4.0 License

Conservation issues-Source BTO

From 1996 , swallows have placed on the Amber list of conservation concern, in the main because of European concerns. However, long term trends in the UK are indicating a decline in numbers and distribution.

European population--14-29 million pairs.

British population-- 678.000 territories in 2000.

Photograph courtesy of Thermos { creative commons attribution}

Familiar Wild Birds {1800's}

In depth article on the Sand martin.

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Introducing the common swift.

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UK conservation status 2021

UK- Green list No current concerns 

Europe- Species of least concern