Wondrous Wildlife
By Vern and Lori Gieger
Swallow This

     No bird in North America is better known as a welcomed companion and a useful friend to the farmer. These graceful little birds have always been held in high esteem by farmers. Like the farmer, they work from dusk to dawn and farmers appreciate any bird that eats insects and not their grain. Perhaps too, old- fashioned farmers are just romantics, and enjoy watching these graceful little aerial acrobats fluttering above them.
     Swallows will take advantage of any activity that stirs up insects, whether it is someone walking through tall grass or a huge, noisy machine harvesting a crop. They will fly back and forth swooping down to capture insects; they have been known to follow for hours a mower cutting hay.
     Like their cousins the purple martin, they are noted for consuming large numbers of insects. One swallow can consume up to 8,000 insects a day. Swallows eat a wide range of both agricultural and garden pests. Insects make up 99.8 percent of their diet. Swallows are considered opportunistic eaters, their diet consisting of almost all insect species.
     Consuming large numbers of flies, beetles, leafhoppers, wasps, ants, moths, grasshoppers and yes, mosquitoes! For this reason, attracting swallows to your property is a positive approach to managing agricultural and garden insect pests.
     Watching swallows hunt for insects while they fly is impressive and enjoyable. Not only do they put on an amazing display of aerial acrobatics, they are eating insects almost constantly. Swallows spend more time in the air than any other group of birds; consequently almost all their food is captured while in flight. They even catch more flies than the flycatchers.
     Historically, swallows built their nests on cliff faces, in caves and rock crevices, but now such nest sites are rare. Now they build their nests close to the ceiling on a beam or wall or tucked under the eaves. Both parents build the nest which is constructed of grasses, mud and lined with feathers. It may require the birds to make 1,000 trips to gather mud. It takes them about eight days, working approximately 14 hours a day to finish the nest. The mud is worked into a pellet and carried to the nest site in the birds’ bills.
     Once completed, four to five eggs are laid and incubated by the female; babies will hatch in 14 to 16 days. Both parents feed and care for the young. With hungry kids in the nest, the parents need to catch something every few minutes. The young mature quickly and leave the nest in just 17 to 24 days. Because of this, two broods may be raised in a breeding season.
     Like many here, we look forward to their return and have come to appreciate the absence of mosquitoes and wasps as we listen to their delightful little songs. Although they can be a bit messy, their benefits far outweigh any inconvenience. The droppings of the swallows are confined to a small area directly under the nest, so it relatively easy to deal with; simply placing some newspaper below is an easy and simple solution.
     Personally we prefer a bit of cat litter in a shallow tray. No odor and it doesn’t blow away.
     (Dedicated to Susan English)