Birds of the Western Slope Feb. 22, 2017

By Evelyn Horn


Birds of the Western Slope Feb. 22, 2017 | Birds of the Western Slope, Evelyn Horn

Photo by Bill Schmoker© Barn swallow

Barn Swallow

It was at the end of July or was it in early August . . . I don't quite remember, doesn't matter anyhow. The Vela's had kindly invited me down to their place to see the fledgling barn swallows. What a treat!

The mated pair had nested in the light fixture on their back deck and the new babies were sitting in the protection of a board along the back wall. How sedate! No problem for them at all, but the mother (I would assume) was scolding and keeping a very close watch on her fledglings. To look at them now, you would never guess what they will look like as adults. Just plain, little brownish birds but they will have brilliant red breasts and shining blue-black backs. Carol says that this is the first time that they've all been visible.

As I watch these youngsters, my mind is back on a fishing trip out of Buena Vista. Allen and I were fishing on Four Mile Creek and I had wandered up to the bridge that crosses the creek, a different sort of bridge because this one carried very heavy truck traffic. And yet there were swallows everywhere and I was intrigued, surely the noise would be hopelessly annoying for nesting birds.

As I approached the bridge, it seemed that there were far too many females that have a lighter colored breast than the males (as seen above in Bill Schmoker's photo). I sat down and observed. Yes, there were more females! But I remembered Sibley's guide that pictured juveniles that look much like the females from June to December. And I surmised that many of my "females" were actually juveniles or "helper birds" from the pair's first brood. The helpers feed the younger ones and I wouldn't try to out-line their other duties, but I'm sure that they are kept busy!

And these 6.75-inch-long birds often return to the same area, to the same nest sites, and even to the same mates. Interestingly, the males may help with the incubation although they aren't consistent. Of all the swallow species (seven listed in most field guides), the only one who has a "swallow tail" is the barn swallow. The sharply divided tail is visible in flight (if you're lucky) but it may not appear otherwise. If you're a swallow watcher, the deeply forked tail is a sure clue to the barn swallow.

But it's time to go home and leave these darling fledglings.