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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Swallowing Problems…a Post Script…

Tending chick

June 26

Last week the routine feeding flights by male and female continued, but the behavior of Mrs. has changed dramatically. Previously whenever she was in the nest, she would not tolerate my approach without darting out and off to the wide open spaces. No stealth on my part would prevent her from taking flight. Even when she began feeding her chicks, if I was standing motionless at the corner of the shed, camera in hand, she would make two or three passes at the entrance summoning up the courage to enter the nest. (The macho male, however, scoffed at my intrusions, stayed put, all the while giving me the evil eye.). Her wariness has turned to maternal vigilance and now I’m the wary one as she darts at my hat and head if I’m anywhere near the shed.

For two weeks I listened to the hatchlings chittering away in the box, faint peepings at first, but louder with each passing day. A few days later I see the first white-chinned chick at the entrance. But only one. I knew a single chick couldn’t possibly create such a ruckus and sure enough, three days later there were double chins at the opening. It was then Mother went on the offensive, dive bombing anything and everything that unwittingly wandered up the driveway.

Twice during the past few days, I’ve noticed two or three pair of swallows circling the shed, hovering near the nest box. Two even perched a while on the shed. I observed this behavior last year shortly before the chicks fledged and am at a loss to explain it. Consulting last year’s journal, I noted the following entry:

30 June—I noticed a flight of five swallows fluttering around the nest box. One after the other would hover at the entrance. Not sure what they were up to…encouraging the chicks to fly, perhaps? I recollect observing a flight of swallows last year in conjunction with the first chick leaving the nest. This flight of encouragement lasted less than five minutes, then the birds dispersed. The feeding of chicks has ceased. Part of the process to force them from the nest? Yesterday evening the mother was dive bombing, warning us away from the box. Today no such defensive behavior.

Ripple readers: if there are any birders among you who can shed some light on this curious flight of swallows, I’d appreciate hearing from you.

                                   *            *            *

10:00 a.m. Both white chins teeter on the lip of the entrance. Mother swallow continues her frenetic feeding, dumping one mouthful of bugs after another into their clamoring beaks.

1:00 p.m. I look up from my lunch just in time to see a solitary swallow dart from the nest box. A few minutes go by without any activity around the nest: no hovering mother…no gaping beaks…no swallow activity whatsoever. It appears the chicks have fledged and fled, flown the coop, are out and about: two more swallows on the prowl for Valley bugs. 

Evening. I look out at the nest one more time. The entrance is just a forlorn black hole, no longer plugged by little white chins. Strange not to see the parents flitting to and fro, beaks clotted with insects for their young. Strange after nearly two months of swallow activity to see the box and surrounding airspace deserted. No more the graceful swooping to the nest; no more curious little heads peering out on their new world; no more insistent clamoring from within, nor anxious parental chitterings from without. I’ll not see my swallows again until next May. Mom stands guard

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