Look up and be amazed

A number of organisations have been putting little transmitters on our swallows to see where they travel on migration; how far they go and the threats they face on migration.

Over the next three weeks about 80% of our Hampshire swallows will leave the country to make the dangerous journey back to South Africa.

Many of the birds we see over our houses during September will be young birds migrating for the first time.

Swallows are incredible. They weigh less than three tablespoons of sugar and their brain is only slightly larger than the size of a pea.

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The adults will generally leave first.

Normally it is the male that starts migrating, leaving the female to do most of the work in feeding the hungry juveniles.

Male swallow are quite lazy and having mated and helped a little with nest building often leave the females to do the lion share of rearing the young birds.

Typically a nest will contain three chicks. One of which is quite likely to die before fledging and two will probably survive.

Birds conceived in mid spring will be in the air during August and September and most will leave for warmer places before the big autumn storms arrive.

Once the birds are ready to fly, the female will coax them out with offers of food and eventually the youngsters will brave their first flight-often only making it a few metres before needing to land.

A swallow flying for the first time can be an incredibly moving sight-especially when one considers that it will have a 10,000km journey ahead of it.

As soon as the female is confident of the youngsters fending for themselves, she too will migrate, leaving the young birds behind.

It will be the last time the fledglings will ever see their parents.

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The fledged birds will learn to fly and feed for a week or two in the Hampshire countryside before they begin a gruelling journey from the south coast, through France, Spain; crossing at Gibraltar; and along the Algerian and Morocco coasts.

This first 2,000km is fraught with danger from hunters with guns, who target swallow in southern France and again in north Africa.

Not all young swallow will get as far as Africa, maybe 1 in 6 will be killed before leaving Europe.

Our swallows then have the challenge of another 2,000km-but this time across desert.

The Sahara can be one of the most dangerous places for migrant birds; with extreme heat, no water and sudden high winds.

Another 1 in 5 birds may perish over the desert and become food for birds of prey.

In the following two weeks our two young swallows, if they have made it this far will cross the Equator and head south through Angola, to Namibia and eventually to South Africa.

Most of our swallows will end up spending the winter period in just one huge reed bed near Durban in Kwazulu Natal.

They will arrive and spend the period from November to February within 5km of their parents and yet will never see them.

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Scientists still struggle to understand how it is possible for a swallow that has never made the journey before, they know that it needs to travel all the way to South Africa and to one particular reed bed just meters from its parents.

And then in February our swallows will start their return journey back to the UK.

In a typical year one swallow will travel over 20,000km and in a bad year just one in three birds will make the round trip. So stop. Look up at our Hampshire swallows and give them a clap as they leave their nests and make their way south.

And next year make every opportunity to provide these incredible birds with a place to nest and breed when they return.

With climate change, hunting and drought the future for swallows is very uncertain. But we can provide nest sites and wildflower areas for them to feed over.

Lets do our bit and help our incredible swallows!