To listen to RTÉ.ie's radio and podcast services, you will need to disable any ad blocking extensions or whitelist this site.
Panel: Eric Dempsey, Jim Wilson, Terry Flanagan and Niall Hatch
As the old saying goes, one Swallow does not a summer make . . . but thousands of them certainly do! April and May each year, large numbers of these long distance migrants stream into Ireland from their African wintering quarters to nest in our barns, sheds, porches and garages. They are beautiful to look at, supremely agile in flight and happy to share our buildings with us . . . all qualities that have helped to make them one of our favourite birds.
On this special edition of Mooney Goes Wild, Derek is joined by self-confessed Swallow-nuts Jim Wilson, Terry Flanagan, Eric Dempsey and Niall Hatch for an in-depth look into the lives of these fascinating birds, including their migratory journeys, their unique adaptations, their foraging behaviour and their nesting habits.
The miracle of migration
Swallows are perhaps our most famous summer migrants, and those currently arriving back into Ireland have all just flown here directly from southern Africa. But why go to all the trouble? Why not just remain in Ireland for all twelve months of the year?
Eric Dempsey sheds some light on the remarkable phenomenon of migration for us.
What do Swallows swallow?
We know that the pursuit of food occupies much of the Swallows' time, especially when they are freshly arrived at their breeding grounds and are preparing to lay eggs and then get stuck into the rigours of parenthood. They almost exclusively eat flying insects, which they catch on the wing.
Niall Hatch explains how these small but supremely agile birds go about tackling such tricky prey and outlines the adaptations that millions of years of evolution have gifted them with in order to make the task easier.
The nesting season
The extreme efforts that Swallows expend in flying such long distances and obtaining food are all ultimately endured for one purpose: making more Swallows! Courtship, mating, nesting, egg-laying, incubation and chick-rearing are the overriding preoccupations of these remarkable little birds at this time of year. It’s all about ensuring that enough youngsters survive to breeding age eventually to replace their parents in the population.
Jim Wilson peeks into the very serious business of Swallow breeding behaviour for us. He also speaks to Clare Morey who tells us about the Swallows currently nesting at her house in Cobh.
If you liked it then you should have put a ring on it!
We know a great deal about where Swallows go, how long they live and how they faithfully return to the same nesting sites year after year. This is all thanks to the efforts of thousands of dedicated and highly trained bird-ringers, who safely catch these small birds, weigh them, measure them and affix tiny metal rings to their little legs. Each ring is inscribed with a unique combination of letters and numbers, which means that whenever a ringed Swallow is found again – either alive or dead – ornithologists can piece together its life history.
Terry Flanagan speaks to bird-ringer Declan Manley about how it all works.
For more information about Swallows, visit https://birdwatchireland.ie/birds/swallow
To report your own Swallow sightings in order to help BirdWatch Ireland to monitor their status and migration, visit https://springalive.net/