11-17 Portugal ceramic swallows

[Image above] A flock of ceramic swallows, or andorinhas, in Lisbon, Portugal. Credit: miyoneza, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Among the various activities that saw a boom in popularity during the pandemic, birdwatching appears to be more than just a lockdown fad.

Birdwatching, or birding, is observing birds in their natural environment as a recreational activity or as a form of citizen science. The pastime is a relatively new development, made possible by the advancement of optical aids in the 20th century, particularly binoculars, that enabled observation of wild birds without harming them.

For beginner birdwatchers, swallows offer a great introduction to the hobby. Swallows are a type of songbird that are easily identified by their distinctive forked tails with long, tapered feathers. There are 75 species of swallows found all around the world, with the barn swallow being the most widespread. Learn more about swallows in the video below.

Credit: SCVAS, YouTube

Swallows have appeared in cultures throughout history as symbols of hope and good luck—a well-known example is swallow tattoos among sailors. Present-day Portugal offers another look at a culture that embraces swallow symbolism.

“The swallow is connected to a lot of things that are dear to us [in Portugal],” explains Ricardo Brochado, an archaeologist and cofounder of bespoke Porto tour operator The City Tailors, in a National Geographic article.

Swallows will mate for life, raise their chicks together, and return to the same nest year after year. That profound connection or longing for a “nest”—a home or homeland—is so important in Portuguese culture that there is a word for it: saudade.

In 1891, famous Portuguese handcrafter Raphael Bordallo Pinheiro designed and sold a set of ceramic swallows. The design gained popularity, leading Bordallo Pinheiro to patent the ceramic swallows in 1896.

Today, it is common to see flocks of ceramic swallows, or andorinhas, based on the original Bordallo Pinheiro design decorating the walls of Portuguese restaurants and private homes. However, sometimes more stylized swallows featuring various materials and colors appear as well. You can learn about these different styles of swallows on the Portuguese products website Luisa Paixão.