Friday, January 02, 2009

Barn Swallow: Bringer of Hope

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
“The swallow knows its joy, and follows it absolutely, although it takes enormous effort to get where it has to be, the swallow presses on regardless. It knows that the journey’s end will be worth it.” - “Swallow”, “Bird Cards

Although most people do not consider barn swallows to be a backyard bird, they have been a part of people’s lives for a long time. Many swallows build nests in buildings, under bridges, and on top of porch lights. For example, a flock of barn swallows return to my garden condo every April to rebuild their nests. They prefer living on the top of the porch lights in the four bottom condos. Coming first, the males repair the cup-like nests, adding soft grasses. When their mates arrive, the pairs finish daubing mud on the nest. Afterwards, they begin their family. By May, I can hear their chicks peeping for food.

The swallows prefer hunting insects in the parking lot in front of my condo. They also like to search for food in the field opposite the lot. Flitting about, they dart and dip, eating on the wing. After capturing several insects, the swallows take them back to feed their young. Later, in June, the young will fledge.

Then the barn swallows begin another new family. They lay between three to eight eggs. After about three weeks, the new clutch hatches. I often see the fledglings perch on the common door’s lintel a month later. Usually, the parents are around coaxing them to fly. Come September, the barn swallows leave for South America.

One year, we had a swallow tragedy. A black rat snake took up residence in one of the front porches, in the rafters. While he ate the young, the parents dive bombed the snake. Finally, they abandoned the nest for another location.

Because their range encompasses Eurasia and North America, and migration routes to Africa, Asia, and South America, barn swallows are well known to people. Among sailors, swallows meant safe return. (Many of them had tattoos of swallows.) The Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans associated swallows with the souls of the dead. Meanwhile, Moslems believe that barn swallows made annual pilgrimages to Mecca.

When barn swallows return back to their homes in the spring, they brought hope and renewal. Christians viewed swallows to be symbolic of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. According to various traditions, the swallows gathered at his tomb on Good Friday. Then on Easter Morning, they flew calling out to the people that Christ has risen from the dead.


Nozedar, Adele, “The Secret Language of Birds”, Harper Collins, London, 2006

Toerien, Jane, “Bird Cards”, Gottmr Publishing Group BV, Haarlen, the Netherlands

_______, “Book of North American Birds”, The Readers’ Digest, Pleasantville, NY, 1990.

_______, “The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior”, Sibley, David Allen, ed, Alfred A Knopf, New York, 2001.


Copyright: Virginia Carper, Animal Teachers, 2008

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