The Barn Swallow chicks have grown a lot in just one week. Last week, they were lying on the edge of the nest and only perked up when a parent brought dinner. This week, they are alert and perching on the edge of the nest. They are starting to get their chestnut neck bands. Shortly, they will fledge. It’s a delight to watch their progress. The parents are becoming more aggressive in their flybys, keeping predators from their nest.
These hungry Barn Swallow chicks are protected from wind and rain nestled in an awning above a door. The chicks lie in a pile with their beaks open. When an adult flies in with a juicy insect, the chicks perk up and start cheeping, as if to say, “Pick me!” Barn Swallows nest between May and September and have 4-6 chicks in their brood. A deep chestnut color on the throat, a reddish orange belly, and a forked tail set this swallow apart from others.
This photo was taken through a glass door to keep from disturbing the nest. When shooting through glass, use a shallow depth of field. Your subject will be clear and the glass will not be as evident. It works best if the subject is not too close to the glass. This was shot at f4, 1/200 sec, 400 ISO with a 135 mm lens.
The chicks are growing quickly. They are expected to be in the nest for only 15-27 days!
Barns Swallows chose a challenging spot to rest when they attempted to perch on a wide metal railing. A flock was flitting along the edge of the auto tour. I am puzzled as to why they chose such a slippery slope on which to land. The Barn Swallow’s feathers are a beautiful blend of blue and chestnut. Barn Swallows are the most abundant and widely distributed swallow species in the world.
When they tried to walk up the railing, their feet slipped, and they rapidly flapped their wings to stay on top. Picture the flailing of arms while walking on ice. It was comical to watch.
“The Swallows live in air and feed when flying, and so have undeveloped perching feet, unfitted for walking,” says Florence Merriam in her book Birds of Village and Field – A Bird Book for Beginners. They were persistent in trying to perch here though they were having difficulty holding on with their delicate feet.
“Although the killing of egrets is often cited for inspiring the U.S. conservation movement, it was the millinery (hat-making) trade’s impact on Barn Swallows that prompted naturalist George Bird Grinnell’s 1886 Forest & Stream editorial decrying the waste of bird life. His essay led to the founding of the first Audubon Society,” according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Would you rather live in a high rise condo, a house built over the water, or camp on the ground gazing at the stars overhead? It is amazing that birds use such a variety of locations and construction methods to build their homes.
Barn Swallow homes are like high rise condos for birds. They like to build their nests out of mud high on a building. You may see them on barn beams or above outdoor light fixtures on homes. Barn Swallows gather mud pellets in their beaks. They add their saliva to the pellet and carry it to their nesting site. Barn Swallows vibrate their heads as they apply a new wet pellet to the drier structure. This distributes moisture and molds the new pellet onto the nest in progress. They may use up to 1,500 pellets to build their cup shaped nest. Adding grass contributes to the durability of the nest. After multiple trips to get a beak full of mud, I’m sure they work up an appetite. One of their favorite foods is aerial insects.
Another bird that enjoys aerial insects is the Forster’s Tern. They also plunge-dive for fish to eat. Their nest is nothing more than a shallow depression in the ground. The lack of construction leaves them more time to go fishing.
The American Bittern builds its nest piling up cattails and sticks making a thick platform a few inches above the water. Nests are 10 to 16 inches across and may rest on a small mound on the ground. Bitterns usually stand among the cattails with their beaks pointed in the air so they blend in to the vegetation. I almost drove right by this one. When he was ready for dinner, he started looking at the water and swayed his head side to side. Was he trying to lull his dinner into thinking life was good in the marsh muck? Then, with lightning speed, he plunged his head in the water and plucked a frog from the mud.
If you disturb a bird’s home, you will ruffle his feathers.
He will not be happy with you.
Whether it’s high, low, or somewhere in between respect a bird’s nest wherever you find one. It’s their home sweet home.
 Peter Goodfellow, Avian Architecture (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2011), 84.
 John Eastman, Birds of Lake, Pond and Marsh: Water and Wetland Birds of Eastern North America (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1999), 211.