The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Barn Swallows are Widespread across Texas
Ro Wauer, June 13, 2004, The Victoria Advocate, © 2004

Of the eight regular North American swallows, none are as widespread and commonplace as the barn swallow. It can be found in every Texas county, including all those within the Coastal Bend where it usually is abundant from spring until late fall. And although most spend their winters south of the border, a few can usually be found wintering in South Texas every year.

Sometimes known simply as "swallow," its name throughout Europe, it is one of the easiest of the swallows to identify. It is a lovely bird with a long deeply forked tail, rusty throat, often a black upper chest band, and pale orange underparts. Juvenile birds possess white underparts. Its song is long and twittering, sometimes described as "energetic chattering," usually at different pitches. Kent Rylander, in his book, Behavior of Texas Birds, states that the male barn swallow's song rate is related to the bird's health. A female selects the healthiest male by listening to his song.

Barn swallows generally return to the same nesting site throughout their lifetime, but young birds do not return to their natal area to breed. They find other sites, often those that have been deserted or new sites altogether. Courtship occurs soon after the birds return to their nest sites. Pairs sit side by side on a perch, touch bills, rub their heads together, and preen each other's feathers. Then the will take off on a long, fast, but graceful flight, the male chasing the female. This flight can be extensive and can almost touch the ground to high overhead.
Another of the barn swallow's interesting characteristics is its seemingly preference for nest sites, often on man-made structures such as barns, houses, and the like. It builds an open nest plastered onto a wall, usually under the protection of an overhang. Construction materials include numerous pellets that it obtains from nearby mud puddles and plastered with bits of grass and heavily lined with feathers. Nests are constructed in seven to fourteen days, depending upon the availability of the season and availability of nesting material.

Four to seven eggs (usually 4 or 5) take 13 to 17 days to hatch, and the babies fledge in 18 to 23 days. Nesting pairs may occur in small colonies or they can be territorial, driving competitors away. But they join flocks of other barn swallows soon after the young are on their own. And migrants can occur in flocks of hundreds, and often in mixed flocks with several other swallow species. In spring and fall, when swallows are passing through, a large flock can take several minutes to pass.
A barn swallow diet is dominated by flying insects, but they can land on the ground to capture prey, or they occasionally feed on various berries and seeds. Swallows spend much of their time flying rapidly over croplands, pastures, lawns, and other places where they are likely to find food. The results are a marvelous display of pest control.
Of the five South Texas nesting swallows - purple martin and northern rough-winged, cliff, cave, and barn swallows - the barn is best known and most common.


At 8:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We've had barn swallows on our front porch for quite some time now, and have had their babies already, and are almost fully grown. I think at this point, they are learning to fly. My mom stated once they finished building their nest," They go when they start attacking me!", but that hasn't happened, I believe they are too used to seeing us, although they fly away once they see us coming out the door. They are not afraid of my dog though, which is suprising, considering he's a barking machine.I once got close enough to take several nice pictures of them out in the open. Even though they haven't attacked yet, my parents are still bothered by them pooping all over our fronch porch! They are thinking of taking the nest down once the swallows learn to fly, which is too bad because I have now and then enjoyed their company and have felt a bit connected with nature, I've even gave the mom and dad names, Carlos and Maria. I could just stare out hte kitchen window all day watching them fly in and out of the nest. There was one incident when we had a road runner running about on our lawn, being chased by my feathered friends in order to protect their babies. Another scarier incident was when a rat snake had attempted to slither up to have an evening snack, but couldn't get a good grip on the pole and climb up to reach the babies. Fortunately, none were harmed, and my dad killed the snake. This site has explained alot for me and gave me a chance to learn about my beautiful feathered friends!
Thanks, Anonymous

At 5:06 PM, Blogger Tim's Digital Darkroom said...

We have a nest right outside our back door.

They had 2 sets of chicks last year, one 4 and the next one 5!

All 9 of them survived just fine, as far as I know.

This year they came back but they are off to a rough start thus far. I think they actually had 6 eggs this time but one did not hatch and then even worse the 5th bird that did hatch only lasted a week or so before it fell out of the nest.

AND THEN, of the 4 remaining, 3 are the same size but one of them is a runt. Funny, of the 9 birds last year I think they are matured at the same rate and left the nest at the same time.

The runt has left the nest but as of right now I don't think it could return. It has been sitting on the ground for most of the day...stretching the wings and even giving it a go but rarely makes it more than 3-4" off the ground.

Good news is that the parents were still bring it bugs and are keeping an eye on it. Also the other 3 chicks are still around but up high.

At 9:23 PM, Blogger Jennifer said...

Does anyone know what the deal is with a whole family of them tending to the nest? It seems that there are 4-5 birds that go in and out of the nest. One or 2 will sit on the railing while another flys out, then one of the railing ones goes up to the nest, it is like they are taking turns. I know the eggs have been laid b/c there was a broken one on the ground. Last year 4 babies were born, but I dont know how many eggs are there now. I just want to know the family and village habits of them, it is interesting to watch. They chase other birds away - even if they arent near by.

At 11:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a pair outside my front door and they are on their second batch of the season. The first batch I think they had 4 of which 3 I found expired below the next one day. The remaining one survived and flew away. Now 3 weeks later I see 4 heads popping up and found one expired below the nest. I hope the rest stay in the nest.

At 2:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read somewhere, maybe Wikipedia that sometimes previouse broods will help tend to the next years broods. Even though they colonize spread out they usually stay relatively close by in the area

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