"And is the swallow gone?
Who beheld it?
Which way sailed it?
Farewell bade it none?"
(W. Smith, Country book.)
Olaus Magnus answered this question, according to his lights, and when,
discoursing on the Migration of Swallows he says:--"Though many Writers
of Natural Histories have written that Swallows change their stations;
that is, when cold Winter begins to come, they fly to hotter Climats;
yet oft-times, in the Northern Countries, Swallows are drawn forth, by
chance by Fishermen, like a lump cleaving together, where they went
amongst the Reeds, after the beginning of Autumn, and there fasten
themselves bill to bill, wing to wing, feet to feet. For it is observed,
that they, about that time ending their most sweet note, (?) do so
descend, and they fly out peaceably after the beginning of the Spring,
and come to their old Nests, or else they build new ones by their
natural care. Now that lump being drawn forth by ignorant young men (for
the old Fishermen that are acquainted with it, put it in again) is
carryed and laid on the Sea Shore, and by the heat of the Sun, the Lump
is dissolved, and the Swallows begin to fly, but they last but a short
time because they were not set at liberty by being taken so soon, but
they were made captive by it. It hapneth also in the Spring, when they
return freely, and come to their old Nests, or make new ones, if a very
cold Winter come upon them, and much snow fall, they will all dye; that
all that Summer you shall see none of them upon the Houses, or Banks,
or Rivers; but a very few that came later out of the Waters, or from
other Parts, which by Nature come flying thither, to repair their Issue.
Winter being fully ended in May; For Husband-Men, from their Nests,
built higher or lower, take their Prognostications, whether they shall
sowe in Valleys, or Mountains or Hills, according as the Rain shall
increase or diminish. Also the Inhabitants hold it an ill sign, if the
Swallows refuse to build upon their houses; for they fear those
House-tops are ready to fall."
This is proper, and good, and what we might expect from Olaus Magnus;
but it is somewhat singular to see, printed in Notes and Queries for
October 22, 1864, the following:--
"The Duke de R---- related to me, a few days ago, that in Sweden, the
swallows, as soon as the winter begins to approach, plunge themselves
into the lakes, where they remain asleep and hidden under the ice till
the return of the summer; when, revived by the new warmth, they come out
from the water, and fly away as formerly. While the lakes are frozen, if
somebody will break the ice in those parts where it appears darker than
in the rest, he will find masses of swallows--cold, asleep, and half
dead; which, by taking out of their retreat, and warming, he will see
gradually to vivify again and fly.
"In other countries they retire very often to the Caverns, under the
rocks. As many of these exist between the City of Caen, and the Sea, on
the banks of the river Orne, there are found sometimes, during the
winter, piles of swallows suspended in these vaults, like bundles of
grapes. I witnessed the same thing, myself, in Italy; where, as well as
in France, it is considered (as I have heard) very lucky by the
inhabitants when swallows build nests on their habitations....
Of course, these stories of curious hybernation were pooh-poohed,
although it could not be denied that the subaqueous hybernation of
swallows is given in Goldsmith's "Animated Nature," and many other
Natural Histories, which succeeded his.
The wintering of swallows in caverns, has another eye-witness in Edward
Williams (Iolo Morganwg), who in his "Poems, Lyrics, and Pastorals,"
published 1794, says:--"About the year 1768, the author, with two or
three more, found a great number of swallows in a torpid state, clinging
in clusters to each other by their bills, in a cave of the sea-cliffs
near Dunraven Castle, in the County of Glamorgan. They revived after
they had been some hours in a warm room, but died a day or two after,
though all possible care had been taken of them."