Swallow-like Birds

There are four swallow-like birds that migrate to Ireland for the summer, and all four can be seen in and around Clane. The swallow, house martin, sand martin and swift all make the tremendous journey to breed here all the way from Sub-Saharan and Southern Africa…

The Swallow (An Fáinleog) is perhaps the most well-known of these birds, and can be  seen skimming inches over football fields and meadows, twittering over our streets and housing estates, and resting on the telephone wires. These social birds often nest in barns or sheds, and build their nest on a ledge or beam. Blue in colour above and mostly white underneath they actually have a red forehead and chin. This is hard to see in flight, but if you spot long streaming feathers to either side of the tail then you can be sure you’ve seen a swallow.

The House Martin (An Gabhlán Binne) is similar in size to the Swallow but is much less common in Clane. One or two have been spotted near the Alexandra bridge over the Liffey. Much like the Swallow they are mostly white below and navy above – but unlike them the House Martin has a bright white rump (between its back and tail). House Martins build their nests out of saliva and mud under the eaves of buildings… however this sight is getting rarer and rarer in Ireland and their population is considered to be in decline.

The Sand Martin (An Gabhlán Gainimh) is a species that Clane can be proud of, as most towns do not have inaccessible banks of sand or earth that Sand Martins need to tunnel into and nest. Slightly smaller than the Swallows and House Martins, they are much less vocal. Brown above and white below, they have a brown band across their chest. They often associate with water, and in Clane the best place to see them is along the Liffey park walk.

The Swift (An Gabhlán Gaoithe) is the largest of the four species and is perhaps the most extraordinary. It can be seen wheeling high above the town, or sometimes racing each other, screaming, down and around the main street. These birds have stiff scythe-like wings, and are so adapted to life on the wing that they can eat, drink, mate and even sleep in the air. Their legs are so unnecessary that they have evolved into little more than bumps, and are only used to hobble from the top of a wall or cliff-edge the couple of inches to their nest. Unfortunately for them, if a Swift ends up on the ground it is usually very bad news: only the strongest Swifts can take off from the ground by themselves. Swifts always nest at a height. This allows them to get enough speed to fly when they leap (or perhaps more accurately fall!) off the edge of the nest. In Clane, some of our Swifts are nesting under the roof tiles of some of the older buildings on the main street. It is hard to believe that when this year’s chicks take their first leap from the nest, they might fly non-stop until they come back to Clane to breed in one or two years time!