Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Waiter! There's A Fly In My Soup!" - Barn Swallows Feeding Young

These are Barn swallows. I took these photographs in Phippsburg while sitting in my car. I could have watched them all day, but did not. I realized that sitting on the side of the road, though not  talking on a cell phone made me look like a stalker or a cat burglar casing homes. I didn't even have a cell phone with me, nor lunch, nor anything else that could explain what I was doing had I been asked. I only had a suspicious looking camera with a long lens and a couple of waterproof field notebooks. All together, it was an assemblage of possibly circumstantial looking evidence that did not look good for me. So, I moved on.
     The maneuverability of the adult birds in flight was spectacular. Barn swallows don't fly all that fast, only about twenty miles an hour. But, they can dip, turn, dive and spin to catch insects in midair. About seventy percent of what they eat is big flies as seen in the bottom photos. They do eat other insects and will pick ants from the ground, too. I have photographed Barn swallows before and written about them, as well (in the previous post about them I had mentioned Michael Jackson, too. According to some readers, that would be another tick against me in the negative column for a jury). Their grace and socialness fascinate me. I have read that they practice mutualism with osprey. I've never seen this, but apparently they will build their nests under that of an osprey taking advantage of the bigger birds protection of their own nest from other birds of prey, like eagles, owls and falcons. The osprey benefits by the swallows alarm calls when there are predators nearby. I am guessing that the flies that accumulate near an osprey's nest from rotting fish parts are attractive to the Barn swallows, too. A little house keeping seems like a good trade for protection from gangsters on the block!
    Barn swallows nest twice a summer. Their clutch success rate (sounds like points a woman gets for buying a really good handbag!) is about 80% unless it has been a cold, rainy year. This keeps the insect counts down and thus, the food availability. That happened in Maine last year when June had record breaking precipitation. Anecdotally (I don't know if ornithology data supported this), people reported fewer swallow chicks.  The chicks fledge about twenty days after hatching. Then, after they have left the nest, they are fed for about a week by the parents. Sometimes, the first brood will assist in feeding of the second! Both parents feed the young. Lady Barn swallows like guys with longer tail streamers (the tail feathers on either side of the notch). If a male is missing his tail, he may be a helper assisting in nest building and feeding rather than breeding. Now is that cordial or what?  
"Cool move, Mom!"
"Hey! What about me? That one looks really juicy!"
Thanks to  wikipedia for some of the information.

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  1. RRR - Whenever I'm sitting in my car, staking out birds in a residential neighborhood, I ward off suspicion by throwing a tarp over any items in the back seat that could be questionable (e.g. pry bars, ski masks, etc).

    El Jefe

  2. Wow, what an awesome tip, El Jefe! I'll remember that. Oh ya, must stuff duct tape deep under other stuff, note to self.

  3. Oh - I forgot to mention that the barn swallow photos are first-rate, also! Except for the "hand of man" (electric cable), the third one would be Glennie {nature photography contest)material. I just love backlit shots with translucent wings!


  4. What graceful athletes these barn swallows are! Nice shots!

  5. Such neat birds you have.
    A neighbor of mine had 50+ grackles trying to eat from her feeder, and about 10 juv Chipping Sparrows on the ground. It is Fall, bird wise (and fishing-wise too, I heard).
    I hope the grackles don't find my feeder.
    My only interesting, though common sighting in my yard today was 2 adult and 11 juv Wild Turkeys.

  6. Thanks, Hilke! I wish I could get around with that kind of agility.

  7. Love the wingspan of the Barn Swallow...perfectly timed to capture its beauty. Also, I wouldn't worry about being spotted as a burglar, I would be more concerned some angry dude cheating on his wife might think you were hired to capture his infidelity with your camera.

  8. Funny sometime to see when they feed their young