Swallow the truth

The Springwatch team had a surprise while they watched their swallow's nest on the cameras in 2008. The male returned to the nest angry and upset and chased the female off. He then reached into the nest and one by one removed all the newborn chicks. Nigel Bean, one of the specialist cameramen collected the small chicks and placed them back into the nest, to see what would happen. Unfortunately, the male swallow returned, picked up the chicks and removed them again. Three chicks were removed by the male, leaving two unhatched eggs. The female returns to continue incubating the remaining eggs, but as soon as they hatch the male forces her to leave the nest again, while he removes the newborn chicks. Having checked this behaviour out with swallow experts, Bill explains that infanticide occurs with swallow males that perhaps haven't yet got a mate. Whether this is a new male swallow that has appeared or one that’s been hanging around nearby watching the female because she lost the original father of the chicks, is difficult to say. But his intention seems to have been to remove all the babies which aren't his, and take the female as his mate to start again. It is something which is seen elsewhere in the animal world such as with lions, where new males will kill all the cubs that belong to the previous incumbent. The British Trust for Ornithology thinks that infanticide such as this may happen in as many as one in 20 nests.

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