Our Barn Swallows Return

April 15th, 2009

This morning I thought I would write that we haven’t seen our barn swallows return yet this year.   And I was going to guess that they would return today… really I was!  So what happened?  The young boy was outside feeding the dogs before school, and when I came out he said, “Daddy! I think the barn swallows are back- I just saw something fly out of the nest!”    And he was right…  one of our little friends was sitting up on a wire, returning after spending the past 7+ months in transit to Central and South America.    There are many signs of spring, but it’s so neat to see the swallows return.  Last year I wrote briefly about predictability and change, and how we live among constants and chaos.   Symbolism with birds.


For the past few years the barn swallows have returned almost exactly within the same day or couple of days in early April.  This year they were over a week late- but obviously sense the weather knowing it was very wet and cold during that time.  If they can’t find insects to eat they will starve within a few days- so they don’t come back until they really know it will be warm-  and today begins a long stretch of warming days. 

Many people make a big fuss about purple martins- and they are beautiful and fun to have around too.  We even put up a new purple martin house this year in the hope of attracting some, but we haven’t been successful in the past.   Instead we have had a nesting pair of barn swallows for many years- and last year three nesting pairs right here at (or on) the house.  Which is really a bit much, because they build these muddy nests under the eaves, and then leave droppings everywhere.  But to watch them fly is sheer joy- and to know how many insects they eat… it’s just nice to have them around too.   Here’s a picture of one of the first-year swallows in late summer last year, stretching its wings above the house.


The odd thing is that the main nesting pair built its nest on top of the floodlight in front of the garage, under the eave. Right where the cars come and go, and we walk around playing and working, just a few steps from the house.  The birds fly off when I stand under the nest, and return when I step a few yards away.  I’m always there.  They don’t seem to mind too much until the eggs hatch- then it’s a bunch of squawking and chirping, and if a cat is on the driveway they swoop down at it, hecking and trying to chase it away.  But they don’t leave their nesting site right in front of the house and garage, just a half-dozen steps from the kitchen.  They’re no dummies- they know a good thing when they have it, but it still seems kind of strange.

It’s hard not to think of them as friends while they nest right above my head, and fly all around the driveway during the day.  When I cut the grass in the fields they follow along, and swoop in front and behind the tractor, scooping up the bugs stirred up around the clippings.  Somehow I like them hanging around- even with all the mess.   Last year those three nesting pairs had at least two clutches of eggs each, and in one season they produced a combined 15-20 young barn swallows.  Where do they all go?  I hope they’re not all planning to come here!  Three nests are enough. 


They’re not really our barn swallows of course, but I like to think of them that way.  It’s good to see them again, and this morning I said hello, and “Welcome back!” after a long journey.  The barn swallow sat on the gutter nearby, cocked its head and just looked at me.   Wouldn’t you love to know where it went, and what it saw on its journey?

6 Responses to “Our Barn Swallows Return”

  1. I like to think of myself as pretty knowledgable on lots of subjects but bird identification definitely isn’t one of them. I can pick out a bluejay and a cardinal but that is about it. I think a lot of that has to do with being partially colorblind and not being able to pick out the distinctive markings. For me, spring still arrives with the mushrooms and I’m still waiting. Perhaps this weekend.

  2. There is a bridge on Interstate 70 in Kansas that has literally hundreds of swallow nests built on it. That has to be a busy, noisy place, but the swallows seem to like it.

  3. Beautiful photos, as usual!

    This seems to be an especially good year for birds out here in the East as well. We were visited by a gorgeous woodpecker yesterday, who I believe is making a home in the maple tree out back. Lots of blue jays around too.

  4. Ed- That would sure make it difficult to ID some birds. I like the barn swallows purple-black and orange coloration. Our temps have really warmed up the past two days, so I’m going out later to find some of those little jewels. Are your redbuds blooming yet?

    Pablo- Interesting that they live in colonies like that- I need to make sure our house doesn’t become as populated!

    Edelweiss- Thanks; It’s nice to see so much of life awakened again.

  5. R. Sherman

    For us, it’s the Bluebirds which arrive every April and hang out for a few weeks before moving on. I’m hoping to get a few pictures, this year.


  6. R.- Bluebirds are wonderful; Have you tried one or two of the little nesting boxes? They like forest borders and some open areas, but putting a box near one of the forest edges about chest high works pretty well- and if they find a good box they might just stay a while longer :)

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