Thursday, 22 June 2017

Heatwave deadly for young swallows

So the summer solstice marked the end of a heatwave with temperatures in the low 30s for days on end.
But that heatwave spelled bad news for some. We lost one of the turkey poults, even though I thought they had now grown to an age where they would be safe. Even more sadly, at least 3 of the swallow nests have failed.
The first hint of this was when I found two dead swallows on the floor in one of the stables. They were well grown young, on the point of fledging - in fact that very morning I had noticed the first young swallows joining their excited parents in flight over the farm.
Another stable and another three dead young, another alive but helplessly crawling around on the floor.

And finally a gruesome find in the chicken feed shed down near the poultry pen. These swallows have nested for the last three years just above the flimsy shed door, virtually at head height. Every time we enter the shed to fill the feed bucket out shoots a swallow.

A couple of weeks back I found a broken egg on the floor and a peek inside the nest revealed at least four rather ugly youngsters, their mouths gaping open hoping for a nourishing insect meal.
Then, just a few days back, five well grown chicks were hanging over the edge of the nest. I just presumed that they were growing too big for the nest, but on the morning of 20th June I found one dead, hanging out of the nest. Another three were dead inside the nest. Looking back on that photo with the benefit of hindsight, I wonder how well those chicks were at the time.

The last time I saw the chicks alive... but how well were they?
I posted this sad news onto Facebook and discovered that swallow nests all over fenland have been failing, with many dead young being found during this heatwave, others found on the floor having left the baking nests prematurely.

As I write, I am hoping to bring some good news too. For this morning I found another four young swallows on the floor in the stables. But these are alive and survived the whole day. The parents are coming in and feeding them on the floor. Obviously they are far more at risk of predation, though this has got to be an improvement on the prospect of being cooked alive in a clay oven nest.

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