The Case of the Nebulous Nestlings

And the mystery continues.

Our first clutch of swallows this year had to cope with their dead father sticking upside down in their midst à la Edgar Allen Poe, while mother fluttered helplessly about in agitation. Now the entire second clutch disappeared overnight. What evil lurks on my porches in the darkness of night?

I need not reprise the first part of this feathery tragedy, it’s laid out in sad detail in my post of May 16, 2012, called “Domestic Disaster Descends”, should you wish to refresh your memory. As you remember from subsequent posts, ultimately, all five fletchlings made it back to the nest after their father’s untimely death and flew off into the sunset shortly thereafter. The first clutch in the second nest on our other porch also matured nicely, so the first breeding of the 2012 swallow season on El Rancho Leon produced ten offspring.

Both nests remained occupied, and in due course, second clutches of barn swallow eggs were laid, incubated and hatched. All seemed well in the avian universe, when suddenly all chicks, the entire second clutch, in one night, in both nests, vanished without a trace. The rim of one of the mud cup nests was broken off in clumps, which lay scattered below the nest. That was the only evidence of fowl foul play.

Hirundo Enigma Timeline

March 2012
– Male Hirundo rustico returns from his Winter retreat in Mexico
– Nest building commences
– March 30: Mme. Rustico joins the nest building effort


April 2012
– first 3.5 weeks: nest building, egg laying, and incubation activities
– April 24 – 30: first clutches hatch in both nests

Chicks are reared according to Mother Nature’s instruction manual. Guano production increases daily. See earlier posts for (incessant) feeding records.

May 2012
– first fortnight: uneventful
– May 14: Mr. Rustico falls ill, rests in the back of the nest
– May 15: Mr. Rustico found dead in the nest, hatchlings are distraught


– May 15, cont.: my corpse removal scatters chicks
– May 17 – 26: Fletchlings return to nest regularly, occasional feedings still occur

Some members of the first clutches remain in the area.

June 2012
– June 04: first observation of renewed incubation activities in both nests
– June 23: first observation of newly hatched chick of the second clutches


– June 27: last observations of hatchlings


– July 01: Both nests are empty

– July 04: Discussion among the casually convened panel of local biologists along the banks of the river Llano regarding possible vanishing causes. Conclusion: predatory nocturnal birds

Fittingly, the “July 4th Llano River Symposium” was highlighted by a brilliant fireworks display!


– July 05: Clean up crew in hazmat suits prepare to neutralize the porches

Oh, ok. Dressed in rubber boots, long sleeve shirt and jeans, surgical gloves, face mask, cap, I, by my lonesome, proceeded this morning to scrape mountains of bird doo-doo from both porches. The more easterly porch was soon too hot to do more, but the other one got a good scrubbing with hot, soapy vinegar-water from ceiling to floor. No more birds, please, at least not that close to my windows. Baby bird snatchers are by no means limited to other birds or raccoons, for example. Those hatchlings also attract our local rattlers – not the company I’m looking for!

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