Birds without borders


We have a family of barn swallows in our garage again this summer. It’s a mess, but they are so fascinating to watch that we accommodate them. The parents arrived April 11th, investigated the top of our garage door opener and decided it was a good place again, and began the demanding task of gathering mud, grass and feathers to reconstruct the nest. On May 22nd the female began laying and incubating the eggs. On June 6th the eggs began hatching, and the parents went into high gear feeding their babies.

Now the babies are 18 days old, getting ready to fly any moment. The parents swoop in and out and in and out with insects to feed them. Once the mother glided in with a moth, lost hold of it, dove to snag it again, returned to the nest to pop it into a baby’s mouth, whereupon the baby dropped it, and the mother plunged to retrieve it once more and then crammed it into the baby’s gaping mouth; off again she soared to catch another insect, while her mate wheeled in with a mouthful. From dawn until dark they fly and hunt and feed their young, then spend the night resting at the nest.

Barn swallows live their lives on two continents. In July they will begin gathering into migratory groups, and by September they will all be on their way to wherever it is they go in South America. The youngsters will migrate with their parents along the 48-degree isotherm, feeding as they go on winged insects. Their annual cycle of migration staggers me! I think of these barn swallows as “mine,” yet they spend almost half of the year flying thousands (and thousands) of miles to or from someplace in South America. Winter home, summer home, fly fly fly feed feed feed work work work. “Borders” are non-existent to them.


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