The rate of moult of European Swallows spending the non-breeding season in Botswana was studied during December-January of 1992/93, 1993/94 and 1994/95 to investigate the effects of variability in rainfall and roosting habitat availability. In January 1994, 2-3 million European Swallows were counted at a traditional roost along the Boteti River. The rate of moult was relatively slow, about one feather (primary, secondary or tail feather) was replaced every two weeks in both adults and juveniles. The speed of moult in juveniles was generally lower than in adults, in particular of secondaries and tail feathers. Moulting rate of both primaries and tail feathers was lowest in 1994/95 during a period of drought and coincided with the almost complete destruction of roosting habitat. In 1992/93, moulting rate was highest when rainfall was moderate and roosting habitat abundant. Moulting rate was intermediate in 1993/94 when rainfall was frequent but roosting habitat reduced because of the low water level in the Boteti River. The combined effect of reduced food availability during droughts and higher densities and longer foraging flights when roosting habitat is scarce might explain the annual variation in moulting rate. From the second week of January onwards many adults started moulting the outermost tail feather before the penultimate feathers. This phenomenon could indicate the importance of long tail streamers in aerial manoeuvring when foraging during the return migration to the breeding grounds.
van der Have, T. M., Bijlsma, R. G., & van der Brink, B. (2000). European Swallows Hirundo rustica in Botswana during three non-breeding seasons: the effects of rainfall on moult. Ostrich, 71(1-2), 198-204. https://doi.org/10.1080/00306525.2000.9639911