Barn Swallows-Bomb Diving Insect Eaters
Having barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) frequent our backyard, is a nice addition to our backyard wildlife menagerie. They offer entertainment with their bomb diving insect eating antics, as well as, keep the insect population down. Though I enjoy their antics and their insect eating contributions, there is one habit that can be a nuisance though preventable, and that is their "messy" nesting habits. With that being said, I will acquaint you with this world trotting bird, and give you some helpful suggestions on how to live amiably with it.
The barn swallow's original habitat was mountainous areas, seacoasts with caves, and hollow trees for nesting. However, with human sprawl, the swallow has had to adapt, which it has done quite nicely. It now makes it home in suburbs, along highways, culverts, bridges and agricultural areas.
The song of the swallow is a warble that ends with a su-seer. Alarm calls are a sharp "siflitt" for predators, which include the cat. The call for a bird of prey is a "flitt-flitt" sounding call, with the hobby (falcon) being it most noble enemy.
Description of the Barn Swallow
The barn swallow is the most abundant and widely distributed bird in the world. It is small and slender, with a long, forked tail. Its upperparts are steely blue, with the underparts a reddish-brown. The female is similar to the male only slightly duller with a shorter tail.
The color of the male is extremely important when it comes to mating. Females tend to prefer males that have a darker reddish chest color.
You can see barn swallows dive-bombing over fields and in neighborhood yards foraging for insects. They will dive and weave through the air like acrobats, and with their mouth slightly open, catch and eat the flying insects. Though their diet consists mostly of flying insects and dead insects, they will on occasion eat berries and seeds.
Quick Fun Facts
- Eggs: White with small dark spots
- Length: 5.9-7/5 in.
- Weight: 0.6-0.7 oz
- An unmated Barn Swallow will kill the nestlings of a nesting pair, with the sole purpose of having the opportunity to mate with the female.
- Barn Swallows bathe by flying over a pond and dipping into the water without stopping their flight.
You may think of a barn swallow as a North American bird alone, however, this is not true. Barn swallows will take up residence in North America only during their breeding season. During the non-breeding season (Which is winter), they will migrate to Central and South America.
Shortly after their arrival to their summer residence, they will find a mate and begin building their nests. Both male and female will painstakingly gather small globs of mud, with grass, hair and feathers to hold it securely against a vertical surface.
The nest will take from six to 15 days to construct, with the result being a deep, cup-shaped structure that is open at the top. In many cases, the swallows will come back to the nest to breed over several seasons, only putting new mud on the structure to keep it strong.
During their summer stay, they will have two clutches. The first clutch will have on average five eggs while the second clutch will have only four eggs. Both male and female will incubate the eggs, with the young appearing in about 13 to 15 days.
Once the young are 12 days old, they will keep the nest clean by backing up to the edge of the nest and defecating over the side. This is why many people consider the birds “to be messy”.
After the nesting season is over it will be time to make their migration to warmer territory. The Barn Swallows will gather around a water source, where they will form flocks ranging from 100 to 1000 birds, and fly to warmer territory.
Keeping Barn Swallows Away from the House
When summer is here, it is so nice to be able to sit out on your front porch with a cup of coffee and just enjoy the moment. Nevertheless, two bomb-diving swallows making a nest can quickly disrupt that tranquility. Many have had this problem, and I have to include myself with the many. However, if you catch the problem early, you can get control of the situation without much trouble to you or the bird. Here are some helpful suggestions.
1. If you do not want a swallow under your porch, it is wise to keep an eye on the eaves of your house, and under your porch beginning in mid April when swallows begin to mate.
If they are just starting to build a nest, you can rinse the mud nest down with your water hose. However, if there are young in the nest, you will have to wait until the nest is empty, which is about 20 days.
These birds are extremely protective of their nesting area. They will come swopping down at you, chirping and dive-bombing you from what will seem like every direction.
2. You can hang a plastic hawk on the porch.
3. If you know where the birds nest, you can cover the area with netting or chicken wire.
4. You can use a bird deterrent like Tanglefoot. Tanglefoot is a sticky gel that you can put on surfaces where swallows usually nest. The birds will look for another nesting location because they do not like the sticky gel on their feet. (This is just one sample of a sticky repellent that can be used to deter unwanted bird nesting.)
To conclude, barn swallows are natural insect exterminators, which give their services at no cost. The only problem you will have to deal with is finding a nice place for them to nest, which many times can be solved with an opened-faced birdhouse with a roof that is located away from your house.
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