Bird Watch – Welcome swallow

The welcome swallow. Photo courtesy Rima Herber, Christchurch.

The welcome swallow. Photo courtesy Rima Herber, Christchurch.

The welcome swallow (Hirundo neoxena – or warou in Māori), is a frequent visitor around the shores of Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere. With its rapid, darting flight patterns, its vibrant navy blue, rust and cream plumage and its forked tail, it is a distinct and welcome visitor, hence its name; they were named ‘welcome swallows’ because they appeared in southern Australia as a herald of spring.

Welcome swallows occur throughout New Zealand, although they are uncommon in Fiordland. They began to colonise New Zealand in the 1920s and they started breeding here in the 1950s. Their preference is for habitats close to water, especially around lakes, streams, rivers, ponds and drains, where they can readily feed on the insects that live there.

Swallows (like their relatives, the martins) are a group of *passerine birds, which are characterised by their adaption to aerial feeding. They often capture insects on the wing and they can also scoop water from the surface of a lake while flying.

(* A passerine is any bird of the order Passeriformes, which includes more than half of all bird species. A notable feature of passerines is the arrangement of their toes (three pointing forward and one back) which facilitates perching).

Welcome swallow nest. Photo courtesy Rima Herber, Christchurch.

Welcome swallow nest. Photo courtesy Rima Herber, Christchurch.

 

Many of the swallow species inhabit human-altered landscapes and you’ll often spot them darting in and out of farm buildings, or under bridges – look carefully in either place and you’re likely to spot one of their nests tucked into barn eaves, or ‘glued’ to the underside of a bridge.

 

Pairs of mated swallows are monogamous and pairs of non-migratory species often stay near their breeding area throughout the year. First-year breeders generally select a nesting site close to where they were born and raised. Their two to five eggs tend to be white, or sometimes speckled.