Swallows water bombing

Swallows water bombing

If you happened to have watched swallows skimming across a patch of water, you may have noticed the occasional splash, something you wouldn’t expect from such precise flyers.

It’s always an inspirational sight to see these plucky little birds darting through the sky, when you consider how far they travel and how they carry out much of their activity on the wing, you have to be amazed by them.

Swallow bouncing off the water

Swallow bouncing off the water

The occasion of observing and taking the main image was in June this year, I was at the Seaton Wetlands nature reserve situated on the river Axe estuary on one of those evenings when the air is still and warm, and the light clean and relatively soft as the sun lowers in the sky.

Looking northward from the hide, swallows could be seen racing across the marshes in their usual manner, putting on an amazing display of aeronautic skills as they plucked insects from the air.

Occasionally, I noticed behavior I’d seen before, where a swallow would break off and dive for the water. Previously I’d taken this to be where they were skimming very close to the surface of the water, picking off flies hatching out of the surface film, but the camera revealed much more than could be seen easily with the naked eye.

If you look at the images on the right, the swallow actually hittsg the water, something you’d think was quite dangerous, considering that wet feathers are heavy, but the bird does actually manage to rise from this dunking and regain flight.

A bedraggled swallow leaving a rather large hole in the water

A bedraggled swallow leaving a rather large hole in the water

And yes, upon looking-up this activity, it turns out that the swallow is bathing on the wing, by hitting the surface several times, its feather get whetted enough to be able to clean them sufficiently. I suppose this is much safer than stopping by a puddle and bathing, as the swallow would very much be prey to larger predatory birds waiting for their opportunity, particularly as the swallow would be stationary. It’s hard to imagine any bird of prey being acrobatic enough to catch a swallow on the wing though, perhaps that’s why their flight seems so erratic, developed to make capture impossible by predators.

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This article was written by
Nigel Jones

Nigel's has been publishing magazines since 1995 (some 20+ years now). Passionate about our countryside and heritage, the magazines reflect this interest. Nigel's the Editor of the DEVONSHIRE magazine which he established in 2009 and founder of the innovative HUBCAST event promotion platform which launched in 2011