A unique conglomeration of Zimbabwean Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) in U.K.

By Professor Ross G. Cooper

Formerly: Department of Physiology, University of Zimbabwe,  rgcooperuk@yahoo.com

Swallows (family Hirundinidae) possess facial bristles and 12 tail feathers. Their bodies are cigar-shaped and the leading edges of the wings less smoothly curved. They spend much of their time on the wing, hawking for insects. Hirundo rustica is a common Eurasian migrant in southern Africa, is metallic blue-black above with a chestnut forehead, chin and upper throat, and buff below. The tail is deeply forked, with elongated outer feathers. In Zimbabwe, flocks begin to arrive in September and are a common sight except in forests. I noticed an unusual conglomeration of Zimbabwean Barn Swallows (Passeriformes, Hirundinidae, Hirundo rustica) repetitively since October 2008 when I had moved to the area, specifically in Pype Hayes, Birmingham, U.K. They were concentrated around trees lining Fazeley canal, adjacent to Kingsbury Road and appeared to be eating gnats and insects from the vegetation on the canal verges. I estimated at least 200 birds – many were arboreal.

There were a group of perhaps 45-50 aberrants within the airborne flock. I am familiar with these birds from Zimbabwe and know that they breed in Africa and migrate further north during the winter months. They normally reach the northern vestiges of Africa and on occasion the south of France. Given the repetitively and progressively accentuated temperatures experienced in England (17 and 36ºC on 1st October 2008 and 11th August 2020, respectively), it possibly suggests that facts associated with global warming are encouraging and delaying the migration of more bird species from Europe and as far north as central England. It was a welcome sight to see so many birds given the vulnerability of this species due to destruction of habitat, drought and predation. With available manpower and time, it would be useful to pursue further investigations on the ecology and conservation of these species and other vulnerable migrants into the U.K.

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