Those Loveable Little Two-winged Bombers
The photo is from the overhang of my house, just one of the many nests I can watch. At the end of this post look for two short videos of the birds in action and one video by a young girl singing at a place called “The Barn Swallow.”
Most people I know do not like the barn swallow. Especially if they try to nest on their house, their garage, or any other inconvenient place. (inconvenient to the human, that is.) Why? Two really good reasons: barn swallows make a mess below their nest. They get territorial, and when the babies hatch they get really territorial. Let me tell you just how territorial.
Back when I lived in a small town the walk-in door to my garage was just a few feet from the back door of my house. I like barn swallows, so I allowed them to make a nest right next to the walk-in garage door. Things were fine until the babies hatched. Then began the territory squabbles with me. Fine. I tried to ignore their chirps and twitters, and their dives. One day I thought one dived a bit too close so I struck out, just once, and of course did not get even close to smacking that bird, not that I even meant to a actually strike it.
Evidently, the bird thought I did get too close
If I thought the territorial battles were bad before I was soon to learn just how territorial a barn swallow can get.
The post office in that small town was two blocks away. Upon returning I would cut across the small city park. A full half a block (about 500 feet) from the edge of my property, both parents would come out to meet me, and they were not nice about it. This went on till the babies left the nest, and then I tore the nest down.
Now get this: The next year I didn’t allow them to build in the same spot. Also I didn’t realize it was the same two birds…or had the vicious genetics passed to the young? I don’t know. I also don’t remember where they finally built, but once the babies hatched, once again both parents would come out to meet me in the city park as I returned from the post office.
The next year this didn’t happen. Likely those particular genes just faded away.
Now I live in the country. I allow the barn swallows to build on my house. They build in at least six locations. Yes, they make a mess but I can live with it. Last year something similar happened. A pair was bound and determined to build a nest right next to my back door, and I was just as determined to stop them. I must have torn that nest down a dozen times. I even put up a platform near by. They at first ignored it then finally nested there. Still a bit too close, but….
Now here’s the strange part. Being that close to the nest I feared the same territorial battles I put up with in town would ensue. Didn’t happen. Yes, they chattered at me, and dived a few times, but I think they simply got accustomed to me being so close. And the babies didn’t fear me. I remember past times getting too close to a nest would cause the young to leave the nest early and get in trouble, but these babies were different. They trusted me.
And now get this: when they left the nest, and left for the south, they buzzed me. No, it wasn’t territorial dives. To me it was friendly buzzing. They were saying goodbye.
And that’s what I choose to believe.
This spring the same thing happened. That pair was back, or their babies that remembered that spot by my back door. Again, I tore the nest down at least a dozen times. And, yes, it upset them but they would not give up. Finally they built a nest—not on the platform I installed for them but on a nearby wreath. Good, I thought. Still too close but…I thought the battle was over but they soon were building right by my door again.
And again I continued tearing their nest down, until I feared they might have been getting worn out, you know, their health maybe was getting in jeopardy…so I relented. I let the nest stay. The eggs were laid, the young hatched and grew, five of them, and they would peek out at me, but showed no fear. And the parents, yes, they would chatter at me and occasionally launch a dive, but nothing really serious. Then they would land on the rain gutters about ten feet away, chatter a little more, and finally go about their business.
And now the five are gone. I hope they all survived.
I do have a history with barn swallows. I was raised on the farm, and we always had barn swallows “inside” the barn. Back then I didn’t have the personal relationship with them as I do now. I just sort of accepted that they were a part of things.
One more thing: I live about 500 feet from the highway. Three highline poles bring electricity in and two wires. Twice those two wires have been filled with swallows. I tried a count, ten, then a hundred, and finally decided there were a thousand birds on my wires. So many that when they flushed not only would the wires shake but the poles too. That even seemed a bit scary. I mean, how much can a thousand little birds weigh? Not a lot, but still. Anyway, south of me is a marsh and open pastureland. The swallows would fill the sky out there and swoop and dive and catch bugs by the hundreds and thousands.
All the birds were not born here. That’s a given. Also not likely were they all barn swallows. Yes, I used the binoculars but couldn’t tell for sure. But I figure there were two to four species. Probably also tree swallows, cliff swallows, bank swallows, and rough-winged swallows. They all nest here in North Dakota but I have never identified the rough-winged swallow. I did put up bluebird houses, two on each pole, one for bluebirds, one for tree swallows. The experts claim if the houses are at least four feet apart they will share the space. I really haven’t seen that, but I don’t spend a lot of time observing either. I do know I have as many tree swallows as barn swallows.
But why would these thousand birds choose my poles and wires? I suspect they like the lush open country hunting ground and the security and quiet of my driveway rather than right out by the highway.
What I choose to think: They just plain like me.
The following 2-minute video shows some of their antics. Male and female are pretty much exactly alike.
The second video is less than 2 minutes and takes place in South Africa. The birds shown are definitely barn swallows, but I didn’t know they were so worldwide. The slow-motion footage is awesome.
The third video (4 minutes) is Helen Horal singing “Providence” from her album “Words Unbroken” live at “The Barn Swallow,” in Ivy, Virginia, February 7, 2009. (Right, the song is not about barn swallows.)