Nature Discovery with Renée: amazing acrobats

Time for an adventure this week with Librarian Renée! Today’s Nature Discovery blog will feature an amazing animal that lives in our neighborhood!

Up! Down! Sharp turn to the left, then right! Now blasting back up to the sky! Zoom it goes! The thrill of watching this week’s animals’ amazing acrobatic feats makes me think of a thrill ride at an amusement park!

Can you guess what I am?

  • I spend the majority of my life in the air
  • I can eat and drink in mid flight
  • I am a long-distance migrant
  • I will return to the same nesting site year after year
  • You may think me messy, but I’m said to bring good luck

If you guessed a Barn Swallow, then you can really think on the fly!

A kettle of barn swallows (Hirundo rustica)

Summer wouldn’t be summer without these amazing aerial acrobats zooming through the skies. We see them darting and weaving above shoppers at the local grocery store and cars at intersections. They can be seen dipping and diving over our neighborhoods, and zipping and zooming over fields of our open spaces. These busy birds are always on the move, spending most of their lives in flight, on the pursuit of their prey – insects! They prefer to take their meals on the go, eating and drinking while in flight. They take to their nests only to rest and care for their young.

Barn swallows are a migratory bird, meaning they have regular seasonal movements from areas where they breed to areas where they spend winter. In Colorado, nesting swallows arrive mid-spring to early summer and stay only for the season. Come late August to September, they will begin their long journey back to their wintering grounds in South America. They truly are a bird of summer.

The swallows have much to do when they arrive. Once they arrive at their summer breeding grounds, swallow pairs will seek the perfect nesting spot. As their name implies, Barn Swallows build nests in barns, as well as porches, decks, bridges, and the eaves of buildings. There is evidence to suggest that swallows may have evolved alongside humans given their preference for human built structures (check out this article from CU Boulder). Once the perfect overhang is found, both the female and male swallow will construct their nest out of mud, grass, and twigs. It is common for the swallows to return to a previous year’s nest, either cleaning and sprucing up the same nest or making a new nest nearby.

Female barn swallows will lay a clutch of 3-7 eggs. After an incubation period of 12-17 days, the newly emerged hatchlings will require constant feeding of regurgitated insects by both parents. The hatchlings will be ready to spread their wings and leave the nest within a month.

The Barn Swallow is a large consumer of insects and a friend to the farmer, helping to cut down on crop-consuming pests. Many cultures believe having a barn swallow make a nest in the eaves of your home brings good luck, while many home and shop owners think they bring a big mess! That’s the price we pay for pest control. If a barn swallow should take up summer residence on your home, it’s important to know that once eggs are laid, it is against the law to remove the nest. You will need to wait until they have packed their bags and have headed south!

Migration is a difficult and dangerous task for many animals. The Barn Swallow migrates far distances and needs to find food, water, and shelter along the way. Resources can be hard to find and there can be competition for those resources. Here is a fun, educational game that you can play with your friends and family. All you need is some open space, a way of marking landing spots, and friends who like to move. See if you can survive the journey!

Want to learn more about animal migration? Check out the book Migration: incredible animal journeys, by Jenni Desmond.

Until next time, Happy Adventures! -Renée

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