I know people who detest barn swallows and will go to great lengths to discourage them from nesting in their barns. I guess if you have a swarm of them they could be a nuisance because they do, after all, poop. But we had our first nest of barn swallows this summer, and they were absolutely hysterical to watch.
We’ve had phoebes build nests over our light fixtures for many years, but we were surprised this year to discover that one of the nests was inhabited by swallows. When the chicks hatched we could see small heads poking just above the nest and initially thought there were four. But as they matured and were old enough to peek outside the nest, we discovered there were actually five. It’s hard to believe that they all fit in there, especially as they got big enough to fledge.
We checked on the nest each day as we were feeding the llamas. As the llamas would exit the barn, they would parade single file under the nest. All five chicks would be perched on the edge of the nest, their little heads swinging from left to right as they watched each llama pass in review.
I did some research on wiki and learned some interesting facts. The pairs mate for life and both are actively involved in the nest building and child care. However, apparently the females have a reputation for having a little fun on the side. Wiki says that “Males guard females actively to avoid being cuckolded. Males may use deceptive alarm calls to disrupt extrapair copulation attempts toward their mates.” Tsk tsk ladies.
Both the male and female defend the nest and hunt for insects. They work incredibly hard, each one dashing out for a bug and returning in less than a minute with the spoils. They are constantly on the go. Each time a parent returns to the nest, the chicks start screaming to compete for the parent’s attention. I have no idea how the parents keep up with who they have already fed, but it seems to all work out. All five appeared healthy and well fed.
The parents not only work from dawn to dusk catching dinner for the kids, but they are meticulous housekeepers as well. We’d see an adult return with a bug, stuff it in the beak of one of the chicks, then reach into the nest, and pick up a glob of poo and spit it out on the barn floor. Once the chicks got a little more mobile, they would stand on the edge of the nest, and turn around so that they were pooping outside the nest.
Watch this short video showing the chicks getting fed. Particularly watch out for the extremely rude chick that stands on the head of its sibling to take a dump and then shoves him out of the way to primp and preen. This one just has to be a girl.
I hate to anthropomorphize, but they behave so much like people that they could almost star in their own sitcom, like “Empty Nest” or “Fowl Play”.