Ode to My Barn Swallows

by Farmgirl

I had the most joyous of experiences last night, as I was cleaning stalls. 

The barn swallows were putting on a show above the paddocks and pasture as the sun was setting.  There must have been over fifty of them, swooping and soaring as they put on a show, it seemed, just for me.  I found myself laughing out loud and clapping.  I had to reach for the fence to keep my balance as my head tipped back to watch their wild flight.

Oh, how I love my swallows.  I start looking forward to their arrival every year around tax time, even though I know I still have awhile to wait.  Once they start moving in, I watch as they choose to remodel an existing “condo” or build a new nest from the mud still lingering here and there.  And then it is just a matter of waiting for the first babies to hatch.

It seems most pairs produce three batches of babies each summer – the poor parents working so hard to brood and then feed their young – usually five babies per nest.  Uncountable times I have reached for my tallest ladder to return a baby back to, hopefully, the right nest.  Birds don’t react to humans touching their young.  Often it may be of no avail, but I can’t keep myself from at least trying to save another one.

Visitors to my barn wonder at my desire to keep the nests in my barn.  They notice the poop and wonder about germs.   You know, we can make the choice to spend our lives looking down and only seeing poop, which is easy to do in a horse barn where we are constantly cleaning stalls and examining horse poop as a method of ensuring our horses health.  Come on, I know you do it too – is it enough? Does it have the right consistency and color?  But I think we need to make a conscious choice to look up and see the swallows soaring through the open stall doors to their babies shyly popping their heads up to see their new world.

Amazing how the babies wait so quietly for their parents to come back with beaks full of tasty morsels for them, ignoring all the other swallows flying by them. Then at that moment of recognition of their parent, you can hear them squawking “meme meme” for all they are worth, as in “feed me” “it’s my turn” “I’m hungriest”.  The evenings in my barn are the best – the parents singing excitedly as they are flying wildly through the barn catching all the insects attracted by the artificial lighting.  What a blessing for them to eat the moths, mosquitoes and other annoying bugs.  I find myself dodging them, feeling at times like I am Luke Skywalker in Star Wars with them zooming around me.  So far, near misses, but no collisions – they have amazing maneuverability.  However, sometimes there is no getting away from being in the wrong place at the wrong time: I have been pooped on (twice) but survived to dodge another day.

Their singing is probably the best part about them.  It is a heavenly chorus in my barn many mornings and most nights, so loud, I am surprised the neighbors haven’t complained that I am hosting an unlicensed bird aviary in the ‘hood.

I went out tonight to try to photograph for you the sight of all those birds flying above the fields at dusk – sadly, to no avail.  Last night wasn’t just another night for my birds, but their last night.  Their grand finale, their good bye to me as they started their migration south.  I am so glad I took the time yesterday evening from my poop scooping, to look up, to laugh at their antics, not realizing at the time that it was their last hurrah for me this year.

So the only pictures I can share with you is a nest with some babies whose parents were a little off in their family planning and will be tardy in leaving (top of post).  Look at those faces, how could I possibly deny them refuge when they give me so much in return.  In the scheme of things, what is a little more poop?

I have a little lamp in my house that I turn on during the long winter nights to brighten my room in the evenings.  It has barn swallows perched on its stand – to remind me that spring will come again, and my swallows will return to me.

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