Swallow perched on overhead cable with blue sky in the background

Swallow migration

Find out more about breeding swallows and their migration patterns.

About swallows

Swallows are summer visitors to the UK. They start to arrive here from Africa in April. By early June most swallows have started breeding and by July, the first brood of young has usually left the nest and flown away. The parents will normally then go on to raise a second brood, sometimes even a third.

By early September, most swallows are preparing to migrate. They flutter about restlessly, and often gather on telegraph wires. Most leave the UK during September, with early broods of youngsters being the first to go. But a few stragglers may hang around into October. 

The return journey to Africa takes about six weeks. Swallows from different parts of Europe fly to different destinations. Ours end up in the very south. They travel down through western France and eastern Spain into Morocco, before crossing the Sahara Desert and the Congo rainforest – finally reaching South Africa and Namibia.

Swallows migrate during daylight, flying quite low and covering about 320 km (200 miles) each day. At night they roost in huge flocks in reed-beds at traditional stopover spots. Since swallows feed entirely on flying insects, they don’t need to fatten up before leaving, but can snap up their food along the way. Nonetheless, many die of starvation. If they survive, they can live for up to sixteen years.