Saturday, June 25, 2011

Barn Sawllow Nest

An overcast, very windy weekend at the beach didn’t provide much in the way of excitement, but a barn swallow nest located on a pvc drain pipe beneath the cabin added a bit of amusement to our time there. I didn’t see or hear any nestlings so I’m assuming that the female was huddled over unhatched eggs. Too bad I didn’t have access to a ladder, which would’ve offered a chance for photos.

In the beginning these swallows did actually build their nests in barns, and also in caves, and on overhanging cliffs and even small trees until the increase in other human structures caused a shift in their nesting sites- under porches, beneath bridges, on buildings, in culverts, and as you see, on top of man-made plumbing.

Looking closely at the makeup of the nest you will notice that it is made up of numerous balls of mud. Each one of those mud balls were painstakingly collected, rolled, and inserted by the adults. A bit of grass was added ever so often to enhance the overall strength of the structure. The inside of the adobe nest is usually lined with feathers (usually shed or lost feathers from other birds), grasses, and even algae, providing a soft spot for the eggs to rest. Nests are repaired and reused in subsequent years. There was one instance I found that scavenged monofilament line was used in nest construction which unfortunetly led to the strangulation death of a hatching year barn swallow. (1) Further research found a similar strangulation account involving the use of horse hair. (2) There was also in the literature a report of a barn swallow nest found to contain no mud at all. (3)

Cultural history says that mariners would get a swallow tattoo as a symbol of safe return and as a indicator of sailing experience. “The tradition was that a mariner had a tattoo of this fellow wanderer after sailing 5,000 nautical miles. A second swallow would be added after 10,000 nautical miles at sea.” (4)It was once believed by farmers that if you damaged a swallow nest that it may lead to “cows giving bloody milk, or no milk at all, or to hens ceasing to lay”.(5)

*Photo of reed perched barn swallow courtesy of Jim Stevenson.

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