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Dublin: 9°C Friday 23 October 2020
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The swallows are back from Africa and that means summer has officially begun

Don’t forget these little guys are a protected species…

Source: Shutterstock/Critterbiz

IF YOU HAVE spotted any of these little guys fluttering above your head in the last week, we hope you tipped your hat and welcomed them home from their winter vacation.

Winter has left us, Spring has been and gone and it is finally (FINALLY) starting to feel like we might get a bit of a summer. And the Irish swallows are coming back to enjoy it with us.

Billy Flynn, an ecologist for the Irish Wildlife Trust said he usually spots the first swallows between 6 and 16 April and it is only in the last week that people have started seeing them around.

Swallows travel in families, with the younger birds following their parents when they migrate for the cold months. What is incredible about them, Flynn explained, is that young swallows are still able to make the journey themselves, even if their parents have died or got lost before they had a chance to show them.

No one is exactly sure how they manage this but it is thought instinct plays a big part, as well as magnetism. Most animals have the mineral magnetite in their skulls and this gives birds a kind of internal compass.

“It’s an amazing journey, they pass over deserts, seas, they fly through all sorts of weather and when you see the tiny size of them, you can fit two in the palm of your hand.”

A massive global project called Spring Alive tracks the migration of birds and if you have a keen interest in it, or just happen to spot one in the sky, you can get involved in it by registering the information on an online map.

People in Ireland have already been logging the first swallows of the season:

It takes weeks for the birds to make their journey home for the summer. Their arrival back in Ireland signals good news for us on the weather front as they only decide to return when they feel like it will be warm enough for them to be able to find a plentiful supply of food here. Unreasonable weather can be fatal for these little birds.

Flynn said it is important now for people to remember that swallows are a protected species and it is illegal to remove their nests, even if they decide to make one in your shed or at the side of your house.

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Though this can be an annoyance for some people, Flynn said it can be “wonderful to see how they make their homes in our homes”. He appealed for people to leave a space for them somewhere, noting some people put a little shelf outside for the birds to nest on.

“They do poo a bit but anything that flew all the way from Africa to be back with me, I’ll put up with a bit of poo,” he joked.

And if you loathe midges, having a couple of swallows around your garden is a good idea as they eat hundreds of them.

Have you spotted any swallows overhead? 

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