Duck the Swallows

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I remember well the summers in upstate New York when I was young. The four-acre farm that my family lived on was not just a training ground of responsibility for my siblings and me. It was a natural school. We learned how to work as a team–which was often a tug of war for the best and easiest assigned chores. There were five of us–three girls and two boys. My father had a riding lawn mower, and thank goodness because he mowed about two-thirds of our four-acres.

If you stood at the side of the road facing our two-story farm house, you would see a large freshly mowed field to the left. Closest to the road was a large raspberry patch that my mother employed us to pick from for jams, jellies and sometimes pies. Much further back in the field was a fenced in chicken coop where the meanest rooster in the world lived. But that is another story.

We had a couple of large barns further back on our property. Every summer we would have a handful of barn swallows build nests and raise their young. However, one summer my dad decided to make two nesting boxes on tall poles. He placed them about twenty feet from the chicken coop–at the edge of the open, mowed field in hopes that a couple pairs of barn swallows would take up residence each summer.

barn swallow.jpg
Random photo

Since barn swallows feed on the wing and eat insects, the field would be an open space for them to feed. It didn’t take long for the first pair of swallows to choose one of the boxes for their summer home. We were all so excited to see them swooping in and out of the box with mud to line the inside of the box. These beautiful birds are quite the acrobats too.

Keep in mind that we had about nine barn cats to help keep the rodent population down on our property–which they did an excellent job. The cats soon gained some keen interest in the new residents. They’d creep ever so slowly up to the posts that held these new home owners. The swallows weren’t having company anytime soon, though. Nope, nobody is invited for dinner at their homes. As soon as they’d see one of the cats, they’d swoop down like a feathered torpedo, and in an acrobatic flip, they’d be six feet in the air again. The cats learned quickly that there was easier prey elsewhere.

I was about thirteen at the time, and one day I decided that I was going to get my large beach towel and bake myself in the sun, fair skin and all. Wrong move. Bad decision. As far as the swallows were concerned, if you weren’t a bug, you didn’t belong. From the time I walked out to the nicely mowed field, I was bombed by swallows. I spent my time ducking to the left, then the right. Stubbornness on my part kicked in, and by golly, I was going to cook in the sun, and nothing was going to stop me. I carefully laid out my towel all the while ducking the swallows. I stretched out on the towel ready for an hour of sun. I don’t think it was more than fifteen or twenty minutes and the battle was lost. Mr. and Mrs. swallow won back their field.

barn swallow range map




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