One Swallow does not a Summer Make

I love this quote.  So before writing this post I researched the origin of it.

In its entirety, it’s this:

One swallow does not a summer make, nor one fine day; similarly one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy.

Aristotle (384BC – 322BC)

He might have said it one fine day in early summer, not trusting that the good weather had truly arrived and was going to stay.

But maybe not.

In any case, I love it.

My swallow tattoo

You may not know it, but back in the mid 80s when I was 19 years old, I got myself a tattoo.  I was young and rebellious, and thought that a tattoo would suit me.  So I took myself off to the tattooist and looked through his art, looking for the perfect piece.

I was a young, poor, single mother at the time, so I decided on the cheapest one in the shop.  There was no choice, I couldn’t afford anything else. 

And the cheapest one was a swallow.  I paid $20 (Australian) for it.

It looks something like this, but in colour.

It was beautiful!  So colourful!  And such a rebellious act (at the time)!  Of course these days every man and his dog have tattoos, so it’s not rebellious anymore.  I actually feel more rebellious by not having more than one tattoo, when I look at people around me who are covered in them.

Well, I don’t try to keep up with fashion, even in tattoos.  My once beautifully coloured swallow tattoo is now old and faded.  I won’t have it re-coloured to bring it back to life – I will keep it as it is, and watch it age along with me.

But over the years, this swallow has become a symbol of freedom for me.  Even if I chose it for its price, it was absolutely the right tattoo for me.  And so when people ask me what it means to me, my reply is always the same – it’s freedom. 

Legend says that for British sailors, a tattoo of a swallow was a sign of their experience.  One swallow tattoo meant he had sailed over 5000 nautical miles.  Two swallow tattoos meant over 10000 nautical miles.  Such distances were rarely achieved in the distant past, so it showed that the sailor was really an expert in his field.

Another legend says that if a sailor has a tattoo of a swallow, it will guarantee his safe return home to his family (because swallows return ‘home’ every year).

In any case, it’s a lovely and very positive tattoo to have.

Swallows in Australia

While swallows are apparently wide-spread in Australia, I don’t ever remember a time when I was able to watch them.  I don’t remember seeing them flying around or seeing their nests.  Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough.

Swallows in Bulgaria

When we arrived in Veliko Tarnovo we were looking for a flat to rent.  We found one that we liked and when we were signing the contract the owner told us that there were some swallow nests attached to the corners of the windows, and that she could remove them if we wanted to.

Of course we said no, no need to remove them.  Let’s live with nature.  Of course, there’s a mess at the bottom of the window, as the birds don’t go to the toilet in their nests, they hang their tails over the edge and let their ‘business’ drop below.  Onto our window ledge.

Never mind, we can clean it.  It’s only bird poo.

And then when we moved into this flat, we discovered the magic of these cute little birds.

swallows in the sky
Swallows on the wires and flying above our flat

Every evening as the sun started going down, they would all fly around just in front of our balcony, catching insects.  They catch their food while flying!  It’s amazing because they fly so fast, it’s incredible that they can see the insects in the air well enough to zoom in and eat them.

swallow on the nest
A swallow at the nest

So we found ourselves standing on our balcony every evening just watching the spectacle.  And they’re so cute.  They catch insects then fly up to their nests, feeding others in their families who wait inside for dinner.

swallow flying from the nest
Can you see the two swallows here?
swallow at the nest 2
swallow at the nest

Then at the end of the feast, when the sun has almost disappeared, they all go inside one last time and then it’s quiet.

2 swallows in the nest
Two together

They all seem to follow the same schedule, so almost immediately it goes from lots of swallows flying around catching dinner, to zero.

And it all starts again the following evening.

swallow in flight

And they’re not only on our windows, but there are several nests on the building across from us, too.

swallows at the window
Opposite our balcony
swallows flying
The building across from us

I found half an eggshell on our balcony, so small and fragile.  It’s amazing to think that a little bird came out of this so small and alive.

The egg compared with the size of my finger

And then one day I found this feather.  See how small it is compared with my fingernail!

This feather is so cute!

Occasionally during the day we could see little heads peeking out of the nests.  Maybe they were hungry, or maybe they were just talking to their neighbours.  They make cute little noises so I guess it’s their way of communicating with each other.

swallow in the nest
Can you see the little head poking out at the top of the nest?

They’ve gone now, off to Africa for the European winter.  Or maybe to southern Spain, as I found out that some of them prefer to stay in Europe.  We’ll keep their nests on the windows, hoping that our little friends will come back next April. 

And I’ve heard that to see the first swallow of the year is regarded as a good omen, so I’ll be keeping my eyes open for them next spring.

Do you have any swallows where you live?  Or maybe there’s a different kind of bird in your neighbourhood.  Let me know your bird stories in the comments below.

~ Cheryl

Author: Cheryl

I'm an Australian woman who is now living in a village in rural Bulgaria. I lived for 12 years in Moscow, Russian Federation, working as an English language teacher. My current loves are my husband and my vegetable garden.

17 thoughts on “One Swallow does not a Summer Make”

  1. Hi Cheryl, what a lovely post! It made me feel homesick as I remember seeing swallows darting in and out of an old abandoned garage that my father had when I was a child. Swallows have a special place in my heart. I had a book when I was a young kid and one of the stories was about swallows and I treasured that book as books were very rare in my household.There are no swallows here in this ugly city but I drive 50 minutes to see some at a place called Grand-Pré ( where the deportation of the Acadians took place.)
    I just wish that I could be there to watch these beautiful winged-friends. Here we have ‘mésanges à tête noire’- beautiful black capped chiccadees, blue jays (I have been feeding them peanuts for years( and they return with their brood. Also gorgeous cardinals, finches. I love nature and being alone in the woods brings me peace.


    1. Hi Yvonne, I’m glad you enjoyed this post. You have some lovely memories of swallows over the years, it’s so nice to hear about them. I’ve been so busy observing the swallows I don’t know what other birds we have around here. Hopefully I’ll learn about the other birds in the coming months. Thanks for reading my blog. Have a great end of the week! 🙂


  2. I love this story. We had swallows on our farm in Alberta, Canada and I loved to watch them as a child. Then there were nests in the parking garage in our apartmet block in BC, Canada. The babies are so cute. I haven’t seen any in Spain yet but I know they are here. We have parakeets living in the trees across from us. We sit on the terrace in the evning and watch them. Birds are amazing. #SeniSal


    1. Hi Darlene, I’m quickly learning that a lot of people have very fond memories of swallows. They’re such gorgeous little birds and everyone seems to love them. I didn’t see the babies because we arrived here late in the summer, but maybe we’ll still be here next spring and I’ll be able to see them then. I’m also sure they’re in Spain, you’ll probably get some from Bulgaria hanging out there for the winter! Thanks for stopping by, Darlene, and have a lovely day.


  3. Hi Cheryl. What a fascinating post! I remember seeing nests like these under the eaves, at our apartment in Bulgaria, but Inever knew what kind of birds made these nests. Do you just know so much about nature from researching? I imagine a lot of your knowledge comes from taking time to observe. I love the part in the post where you talk about the swallow tatoo’s and the legend behind them. I like the idea that yours might be a symbol of your experiences. At this point in my life, I treasure my experieences and I feel that they have made me who I am today and I’m happy about that. I’ll pin some photos under nature. Thanks for sharing. xx


    1. Hi Christina, I don’t really know how I know so much about nature. I read a lot when I was a kid, about all sorts of things. I also read my mum’s ‘women’s magazines’, and was always going to the library taking out books on random things! I’m great at random facts but not an expert on anything! You’re right, I do observe a lot, especially as I get older. And I really appreciate nature a lot more than I used to, maybe from living 12 years in Moscow and spending most of the time in a large city.
      YOu’re right, we are all a result of our experiences. But it’s not over yet, plenty more experiences to come, both good and bad but they all make us who we are and as long as we’re a good and kind person then that’s the best result we can hope for, isn’t it? Glad you enjoyed my post. 🙂 x


    1. Hi Dee, yes, it’s funny what life presents to us when we don’t expect it. I love these little birds and can’t wait to see them again next year. 🙂


  4. Cheryl, I enjoyed reading the legends of swallow and your tattoo freedom meaning. We have swallows and many other birds here since Toronto is in their flight paths from North to South and vice versa. It’s fascinating to watch and listen to the sounds they make. I’m sure the swallows will return next spring on your balcony. Have a wonderful week!


    1. Hi Natalie, how nice that you’ve got swallows in Toronto too! Yes, I agree, they are simply fascinating! Really looking forward to their return, I miss them already. Thanks for stopping by. x


  5. Hi Cheryl – we have swallow nests in shopping centre eaves around here – usually they try to discourage them because the poo does make a huge mess. It’s still lovely to see them and they’re so clever setting up their nests and tending their babies. Loved your story about your tattoo – I waited til I was nearly 40 before I had mine – better late than never! PS My daughter’s first tattoo was a swallow on each hip.


    1. Hi Leanne, I’m learning a lot about swallows – I didn’t know they would live in a shopping centre! Yes, the poo makes a big mess, I’ve still got some to clean up outside our window, I was waiting for them to leave but now I’m procrastinating. 🙂 Swallows seem to be a popular design for tattoos, I guess they’ll never go out of style. I did think about getting some more over the years, but just didn’t feel the need. At least by waiting until you’re 40 you’re sure to get one you really want and not just the cheapest one in the shop!! Have a great week, Leanne! 🙂 x


  6. Hi Cheryl, how cool is it that you have a swallow tattoo and now are happily living with swallows around you. I love the tattoo and I love the story about sailors. We have swallows here, little brown ones that roost on the edge of sheds or in garages. I have never paid much attention to them. We did put up a bird feeder this year and have enjoyed watching all the birds flock to it this summer.


    1. Hi Michele, thanks for your kind words. A bird feeder is a great idea! I think I’ll see about putting one out when we’re finally living in a house and not in an apartment. I’m starting to appreciate nature and animals more and more since I’ve been in Bulgaria. Thanks for visiting Born in a Car, have a great week!


  7. What a great story, Cheryl. Nature is wonderful, and even a casual study of it brings joy and peace. We will feature your post in the next Blogger’s Pit Stop. It may be my age?? You would not remember the biscuit company and the singing commercial ‘O flying swallow. From Melbourne, Victoria, Swallow and Ariell, prided themselves in catering to the ‘biscuit and cake needs of Australian housewives’.


    1. Hi Kathleen, thank you, yes, nature is indeed wonderful, and although I was a bit of a country kid, spending some of my childhood and teenage years in the Australia bush, it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to enjoy nature so ‘hands on’. I’m absolutely loving it!
      No, I don’t remember the Swallow and Ariell biscuit company, but thanks for the link to the video, it was wonderful to see ‘old fashioned’ processes – such simple and good times (I get so nostalgic for the old days, even the days before I was born!). Thanks for choosing my post to feature on Blogger’s Pit Stop! Enjoy the rest of the week, Kathleen.


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