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Posted: 10.05.22 in Articles category

May is the month that Swifts come back to my village, migrating here from Africa where they spend the winter. Their arrival date is fairly regular - usually around the 4th. They stay to breed under the eaves of houses along our main street and raise one brood before they disappear in August to start their return journey.

Swifts feature in the Old Testament with two references cited from the NIV as shown. The first from Isaiah about swifts crying is surprising as I indicate below, and the second from Jeremiah relates to their pattern of regular migration. 

Isaiah 38 verse 14

I cried like a swift or thrush, I moaned like a mourning dove.

Jeremiah 8 verse 7

Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons, and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration. But my people do not know the requirements of the Lord.

The first of these references was part of a personal letter written by King Hezekiah after his illness and recovery. In his letter he recounted his despair, fearing that he would die, and he wrote of crying like these birds. I find the king's linkage curious as the sounds these birds make differ considerably. Mention of a thrush crying is understandable as this bird typically has a loud, clear and indeed melodic voice, but the reference to the swift is intriguing. The main kind of swifts seen in modern Israel are also vocal and make soft yet shrill screaming sounds. Did the king recall making similar screams? The second reference is an extract from a lengthy commentary by the prophet Jeremiah about God's judgement on the people of Judah. The prophet contrasted the behaviour of migratory birds including the swift and the thrush that know when it's the time for them to act with that of rebellious people who should have known their need to repent and obey God's laws.

Here in Britain bird migration is a key marker of the changing seasons, especially in the spring and autumn. While we have an old saying that ‘one swallow doesn’t make a summer’, their arrival indicates that spring is here. Swifts typically arrive a fortnight later in early May. Do they herald the coming of summer?

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