Birds on your doorstep

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Already our swallows and house martins - those elegant symbols of summer – are flying round the housetops in excited groups as they prepare for their autumn return migration to Africa.

The incredible journey they have to make is so long and so fraught with problems and danger that thorough preparation is vital if the young birds in particular are to survive – only a small proportion will.

First, they must do their wing-stretching exercises to strengthen their muscles and tone up after squatting in a cramped nest for three weeks. While their new feathers are growing they must preen them regularly so that they will be in top condition for the marathon flight.

The youngsters must also learn how to catch flies for themselves, which they do by copying their parents. It’s amazing when you think about it, how even the adults can do that, considering their tiny beaks and the speed and manoeuvrability of a fly. They must also learn which flying insects are the best (midges and mosquitoes) and which are to be avoided.

The youngsters must also spend days sitting about and flying round the area where they were born, for they must be sure to know it well enough to be able to recognise it when they return in the spring:.

Like the adults, they regard their birthplace as home and will come back to it to rear their own families – amazing but true! Hence they remain in the vicinity of their nest for weeks after fledging, returning each night to roost in or near it.

Eventually, as the days shorten, and the instinct to migrate takes precedence, they will set off for Africa. However, despite all this preparation they will need a lot of luck to survive the outward journey, the winter and the return journey next spring.

We can only hope that they do succeed and give us the pleasure of their company next year.

Good luck to them!