Swallows, martins, swifts. The pointy birds. Vladimir Nabokov described them as ‘scissoring’ the sky and it is a beautiful idea, the thought of the birds cutting cleanly through the sky like a tailor’s scissors through cloth, until you realise the wings would have to be the other way round for it to work, you know, visually speaking. Stick to butterflies, Nabokov. Eh? Write what you know.
Anyway, the pointy birds can be quite tricky to separate for the beginner but it is far from an impossible task. Here are five tips to make it relatively easy.
Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
- STEP ONE. Are you looking at the bird while surrounded by men in green clothing holding binoculars, telescopes and cameras? If yes, it is something rare. Ask them what it is. If no, you can eliminate rare birds and concentrate on the common ones: swallow, house martin, sand martin, swift. Move to step two.
- STEP TWO. Is it a quite big brown bird wazzing up and down your street making a sort of screamy srrrriiiir noise? If yes, it’s a swift. If no, move to step three.
- STEP THREE. Has it got a red bit? If yes, it’s a swallow. If no, move to step four.
- STEP FOUR. Is it brown-and-white or blue-and-white? If it is brown-and-white it is a sand martin, if it is blue-and-white it is a house martin. If you can’t really tell, can you see a house? If so, by the laws of averages…
- BONUS STEP. Is it so high in the sky that you couldn’t possibly tell what it is? It’s a swift.