A Big Mouthful

By the time August rolls around, most swallows are starting to think about leaving.  Long before other birds are even looking at their travel brochures, swallows are preparing for the big move. They are eyeing up the fares and booking their flights.  Of course, not all of them are – thus the use of the word “most” and the reason for this blog entry. I was surprised to find that quite a few Barn Swallows are still very much in a family way. This is a bit late by my estimation, but my estimation don’t count for much sometimes (either do my English skills).

These birds are still very much in evidence around their summer colonies. A goodly portion will be engaged in basking. Barn Swallows are creatures of the sun and take every chance they can for sun-bathing. The low angled rays of the August sun can take the edge off on these cooler mornings and the birds will spend an inordinate amount of time on east facing roofs and branches. Only the close approach of a passing human (and I mean very close) will stir them back into temporary flight.

A good number of the Barn Swallows flitting (and basking) about these days are young-of-the-season still fresh from the nest and new on the wing. They blend in with their adult companions due to their full size, but they possess the duller feathers and slightly befuddled look of youth. A few of the younger ones even retain a few down feathers but these birds are fully fledged and are pretty much fending for themselves. They are now capable hunters snatching all manner of insects out of the air or deftly plucking sips of water while on the cruise.

There are plenty of flightless swallows confined to the nest, however. One Barn Swallow nest tucked under the eaves of the Crosswinds Marsh shelter contained three eager chicks. These little fellows had a lot of growing to do. One bold nestling allowed himself to be seen above the rim of the nest and displayed the wide lipped smile of a very young bird. His cautious nest mates only popped up when one of the adults fluttered past – their bright yellow mouths agape. Their parents were anxious at my approach, but kept on snatching and delivering food to their hungry charges. As long as I retained my distance they would fly to and from the nest. There was a bit of urgency in their delivery and they appeared to be “fast-tracking” their young.

Based on the offering of one of the parents, these nestlings should be bulked up in no time. Hoisting a dragonfly bigger than his head, he did all he could to retain his grip while patiently waiting for me to back away. The dragonfly, a skimmer, was long dead but still an ungainly mouthful for a big-mouthed bird (sure they nest in barns, but one can easily imagine that they could swallow a small barn if given the chance). The adult bird could have polished it off in a few gulps if it had been a personal meal, but it was to serve as baby food. There were plenty more dragons in the marsh to gulp and only so much daylight in which to gulp them, so I retreated and left the busy parents to their late season task.

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