Bird Identification – The Barn Swallow
Do you know where there is an old-fashioned, weather-worn barn, with its hospitable doors standing open, where you could not find at least one pair of barn swallows at home beneath its roof? These birds, you will notice, prefer dilapidated old farm buildings, whose doors are off their hinges, and whose loose shingles or broken clapboards offer plenty of entrances and exits. If you like to play around a barn as well as every child I know, you must be already acquainted with the exquisite, dark steel-blue swallows with glistening reddish buff breasts, and deeply forked tails, that dart and glide in and out of the openings, merrily twittering as they fly. While you tumble about in the hay among the rafters the swallows go and come, so that, quite unconsciously, you will associate them with happy hours as long as you live.
High up on some beam, too high for the children to reach, let us hope, a pair of barn swallows will plaster their mud cradle. Did you ever see them gathering pellets of wet soil in their bills at some roadside puddle? It is, perhaps, the only time you can ever catch them with their feet on the earth. Each mud pill must be carried to the barn and fastened on to the rafter. Countless trips are made to the puddle before a sufficient number of pellets are worked into the deep mud walls of the ample nursery. Usually grass is mixed with the mud, but some swallows make their bricks without straw. A lining of fine hay and plenty of feathers from the chicken yard seem to be essential for their comfort, which is a pity, because almost always chicken feathers are infested with lice, and lice kill more young birds than we like to think about. When there is a nestful of fledglings to feed, sticky little pellets of insects, caught on the wing, are carried to them by both parents from daylight to dusk. Do notice how tirelessly they work!
In a family famous for graceful, rapid flight, the barn swallow easily excels all his relations. The deep fork in his tail enables him to steer himself with those marvellously quick, erratic turns, which make his course through the air resemble forked lightning. But with what exquisite grace he can also glide and skim across the water, fields and meadows without an apparent movement of the wing! His flight seems the very poetry of motion. The ease of it accounts for the very wide distribution of barn swallows from southern Brazil in winter to Greenland and Alaska in summer. What a journey to take twice a year!