There are four hatchlings, not three, as previously surmised.
As in past nesting years, one’s a shrayer (second from left, pictured above) while his meeker siblings, in their eagerness to merit a morsel, are in constant danger of toppling out of their nursery. Is there anything more endearing in the world of newbies, than the heartbreaking ugliness of nearly naked hatchlings?
We tried so hard to discourage nesting on our porches again this year, but the determination of ‘our’ swallows couldn’t be overcome. Our house has a multitude of protruding beams, forming nooks and crannies, which offer the swallows custom build perches to construct their messy mud-cups. Those locations are conveniently covered, thus rendering the nests safe from inclement weather and predatory birds. And since we humans kindly shoot all rattlesnakes on our porches, these younguns are very well protected at El Rancho Leon. Their crafty swallow parents know it, trust me.
For several years in a row, a swallow pair built their original nest on a very convenient ledge, diagonally across from the kitchen window and in full view from the dining table. The lazy bums reused the existing structure in consecutive years, just renovating it a little. We enjoyed many happy meals (not Happy Meals!) watching the youngsters attend flight school. Early in their instructions, they’d be lined up along the top wire of our dog kennel fence, only a short glide from their nest, teetering and wobbly, while mom and dad whizz by in tight circles. Finally, one by one the little guys would take to the air, gaining confidence, flying one or two small loops before returning to the nesting area, landing precariously on any object offering a foothold. One of them might barely manage to stay on top of a pointy fence post, another one squatting safely on the curve of the smoker barrel – fortunately not in use! – while yet another fletchling could be literally somersaulting straight back into the welcoming deep bowl of their nest. Once they got the hang of it, we were treated both to an amazing aerial show every evening, as well as to a chorus of triumphant songs from the family choir on the fence.
On the birdie downside, there is, however, the not inconsiderable guano pollution. And there is also mud flying everywhere during construction and you can’t really clean up, or wash the windows, while the birds are either incubating or feeding, for fear of upsetting parental sensibilities. Last year we attempted to have swallow-free porches, by installing rubber snakes in strategic locations. We were told in the local feed stores that swallows won’t nest where those toy snakes are visible. However, when I returned from Costa Rica in September, I found quite a number of partially build learner nests all over the place and one completed nest, which very cleverly incorporating one of our stupid rubber cobras. I had looped this particular one through the wiring of never-installed outdoor speakers, thus creating the perfect foundation, apparently, for nest building. Truth be told, there was indeed no nest on the usual ledge – just everywhere else and the mess was more extensive than ever.
Basta, I said, no more! So I tried to chase them off quite vigorously this Spring. For a short while. They sing so cheerfully and their flight movements are so exuberant, I couldn’t sustain my anti-swallow-squatting campaign for long. We now have two nesting pairs, one on each porch and we can’t wait for the 2012 flight school to open its wings!
But first mom and dad have to work hard to feed the hungry offspring.