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The Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica, Nature's Aerial Acrobat (Part One)


Lewis Smith



BY LEWIS SMITH


More than any other bird,
with the possible exception of the Turkey Vulture,
I treasure its presence.

 




The Barn Swallow really earns its keep -- aesthetically and as a practical matter. They come early in the year and stay late, endlessly patrolling my grounds for things that, without them, surely would be driving me nuts -- buzzing around my head, crawling down my neck or biting my arms and legs. All while the Vultures soar majestically overhead and keep the place from stinking up.
 

Bugcatching. . .


Photograph Lewis Smith
Who you gonna call? BugBusters!

One of the best things about the Barn Swallow is their entertainment value. When I'm really old, not just partially, I'd hope to be wheeled out onto the porch. There, I'd be perfectly happy watching a squadron of them put on a death-defying air show that would shame the Blue Angels or Thunderbirds.

They're at it just about all day. Their near-disastrous swoops and hairpin turns are the "right stuff" if you're going to catch bugs on the wing. But, even when they're not feeding, they "go for it" in catch-me-if-you-can games just for the sheer fun of it. I'm convinced of that.

Lest I'm thought to deal in extremes, let me briefly say that I treasure all birds; however, some to me are just a little more special. For example, I have a Purple Martin house and loyal colony, and would be severely shaken if they abandoned us. They're close relatives of the Barn Swallow [BS], but I'm not sure the Purple Martins [PM] see them as social equals:
 
If they were Titanic passengers, the PMs would definitely be upper deck, while the BSs would be having a ball in steerage.


Photograph Lewis Smith


The PMs much prefer pristine condos, while the BS builds its own humble mud and straw place...  preferring eaves with rough surfaces, a platform under a porch overhang, or barn rafters - all fairly near a water/mud source.

The mud (here caliche) and straw nest is the result of hundreds of trips to a nearby tank, where the adult pair also drink, scooping the water with their beaks without touching down. In drought periods when less mud is available, they'll settle for a less muddy nest built on a platform.



 


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