They are back! A little late this year, but back none the less. For the past month I have been anxiously awaiting the return of our resident swallows and as the time has gone by, I have to admit that I was more than a little worried that something may have happened to prevent them from finishing their incredible journey across I don’t know how many continents.
For me, the return of our swallows signifies the official start of spring and for the past ten years they have returned without fail, usually during the last week in February and the first week in March. When I first hear or spot them my heart does a flip and it makes me indescribably happy, but this year they are late arriving and the thought of having no swallows to watch build their nest and rear their young left me feeling more than a little sad. Last year they were back and checking the structure of the previous years nest for any maintenance needed in the last week of February.
All that changed two mornings ago when I was sat in our hallway, tapping away at my keyboard. The front door was wide open as the weather is stunning, the sky is blue, the birds are chirping and there is a warmth in the air that I love – I would have been sitting outside on the balcony, if it weren’t for the fact that I cannot see my computer screen when I am outside, even when sat in the shade.
As I tapped away on my computer something very briefly caught my eye. It was a small, dark shadow that flitted quickly in and out of my line of vision, high up towards the ceiling of our balcony. Even though I didn’t actually see what the shadow was my heart soared because I knew it was one of our swallows. I just knew it! My spirits rose and I felt myself break out into a smile.
I went outside to see if I could see any swallows perched on the high telephone wires across from our house, as this is where they tend to congregate. There weren’t any there to see, but I could hear the familiar chattering of a swallow. It is amazing, when they first arrive back groups of swallows congregate on the telephone wires, all chattering wildly as if sharing their journeys adventures. In reality they are probably catching their breath after their long flight and trying to get their barings, before they fly off with their partners to start their new families or pair up with a new partner to start their lives together.
The swallows also congregate during the summer months with their young that have flown the nest. What starts off as a pair of swallows at the beginning of the summer can multiply to as many as twelve swallows by the end of the summer. Our swallows have been having two broods most summers, with usually five young in each brood, although a young pair of swallows may only get to have one brood as they are inexperienced at nest-building, mating and the whole bringing up the chicks routine!
The most spectacular congregation happens at the end of the summer, when all the swallows collect on the telephone wires catching up on the summers events, swapping wildly funny chick rearing stories – something I can only really surmise – and preparing themselves for the long journey back to Africa.
Swallows do mate for life, but if something unfortunate happens to their partner they will soon pair up again, which is sad to witness, but good that they get on with their lives as nature intended.
These little birds have no idea how much joy they bring into our lives. Every morning as the sun starts to rise and every evening as the sun sets, our pair of swallows sit on a wire leading from our house, the wire is barely three meters off the ground, but they happily sit there communicating with each other, despite us being around and having four dogs. They seem to talk with each other and groom themselves getting ready for the day ahead or chatter to one another about the day they have had and what the next days plans are. I even make a point of saying ‘good-morning’ to them, I get up, put the kettle on, greet the dogs and then go outside and greet the swallows, seeing them makes getting up worthwhile.
It’s nice to sit in the shade on the balcony, drinking a coffee and watching the swallows going about their daily business. They are very busy little birds, with both birds doing their fair share of the nest building, chick feeding, nest cleaning and teaching the young to fly. I think my favourite events are the first sighting of the swallows, the first sighting of the chicks peeping over the top of the nest and when the parents are trying to get the young to fly.
All of this happens right on our doorstep, it really is amazing to witness. When the parents are coaxing the young out of the nest to fly, I can be sitting literally a couple of meters away and these birds know they are safe, they just do what they have to do and get on with it. Even on the odd occasion when a young swallow has fallen to the floor and is not able to fly back up to the nest, my husband gets the ladder and pops it back in and the parents don’t reject it.
Having the swallows around is something special, they are like part of the family, but without the responsibility that comes with having a family. These birds are totally free, yet still they choose to come back to us every year.
They often settle down for the night on a wire in the children’s bedroom, which is a pain as I have to make sure they can get out as the sun rises to feed their young, we try to remember to shut the shutters early so they can’t get in, but we often forget or they have already settled down. I won’t chase them out as I worry they will damage themselves in a panic and they cannot see well in dim light, plus they cause no harm except a few droppings on the floor – and how many youngsters get to sleep with swallows happily roosting in their bedrooms?
The final congregation symbolizes to me that summer has ended and I feel a little sad. When I see them congregating I know that it won’t be long until I wake up one morning and they will have all gone for the winter and I cannot help but wonder how many of the swallows will actually make it to Africa and back in one piece. When I see a flock of swallows flying high over head, flying with only instinct to guide them, I give a small wave and wish them luck on their journey.
I feel nothing but respect for these little birds. They are fragile looking creatures, that work together, work hard and are trusting to a degree. They don’t give up when things go wrong, they are born survivors; how else would they manage to fly something like six thousand miles to another continent to start the process all over gain.
Nature has a lot of lessons to teach us, if only we took the time to learn!
What amazing experiences do you have with nature? I’d be interested to hear.
Copyright © 2014 Debbie Roberts
© 2014 – 2019, Debbie. All rights reserved.