The Swallow

"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;
br />
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."