Just Your Ordinary Ornithology

Pat has been our resident ornithologist for some time now.  She loves birds and is diligent in providing food, drink and bathing facilities for any bird that happens by.  It seems that her regulars have found a home in our backyard and Pat is on the lookout every spring for the boarders to return.  I’m sure that some of these “welfare birds” could not survive any longer on their own.  Of course this manufactured dependency grates against my conservative sensibilities.

Last year, for the first time, the word got out and some barnyard swallows decided to homestead under the eaves of our porch.  My first reaction was, when Pat wasn’t looking, their adobe house would mysteriously collapse.  After all non-stabilized mud doesn’t hold up well, does it?  She kept her eye on me out of some type of weird premonition and that limited my opportunities.

Yes, these strange birds build their nest out of little dollops of mud.  Since we have been in a drought for some time, Pat made sure the hose ran enough to provide a little mud pit for them to work from.  It was amazing how they would, dollop by dollop, build a floor and then the sides to complete their adobe bowel nest.  The pair worked diligently to complete the project in a short period of time.  They lined the interior with feathers and soft material.  Swallows pair up for life in spite of occasional philandering.

Well, the first year was a disaster.  Weeks of 100 plus temperature sort of “boiled” their eggs on the porch that once reached 117 degrees.  No babies.  Pat decided that it was not in their best interests to hang out there so we took their adobe house down after they finally gave up on starting a family (twice).   That was last year.

Guess what?  They’re back!  This spring they returned and rebuilt their adobe bowel, laid five eggs, and hatched four.  Little fuzzy heads appeared above the edge as mommy and daddy worked overtime at feeding them.  Humans grow into their heads, puppies into their feet, and birds into their mouths.  Pat commented that they looked like frogs.  As they lined up along the side of the bowel with their large, strangely yellow-outlined mouths (beaks?) wide open, it looked like a little choir singing for their supper.

Mommy and daddy swallows fly their little feathers off fetching insects to feed these big mouths.  If we venture too close, we get buzzed in a fly-by warning.  At one point I gave up and just stayed in the house.  Mom and dad spend the night next to the adobe sitting on a conduit pipe that runs across the porch overhang.  Woe to the bird that violates their idea of personal space.  They will chase off a grackle that is five times their size.  They are determined little parents.

Well the day came when the little fuzzy heads decided to make a break for it.  Out went one flapping its wings but not managing to fly too well.  After watching it in the backyard for a while, Pat decided it ventured out a little too early and put it back in the adobe bowel.  Of course through all of this mommy and daddy were beside themselves with frantic flying, chirping, buzzing us, and generally acting crazy.

This in-and-out of the adobe bowel went on for several days until two of them managed to get on the phone or power line and wait for food.  Mommy and daddy would catch an insect in flight, buzz by the kid on the line and do an amazing hand off, actually a mouth off that would rival the NFL.  It’s interesting that most of the social life of Pat’s bird bunch is done online (not original).  It appeared that these two adventurers were on their way to adulthood.

Unfortunately, one of the four never made it out of the nest.  Somehow in the zeal of the other three getting to the head of the “I’ll fly away” line it got trampled and passed away (sniff, sniff).  It was as bad as Macy’s Black Friday.  The other made it out, wandered around in and out of the backyard and sort of disappeared somewhere.

While Pat was trying to retrieve the deceased swallow from the adobe bowel, the fragile structure began to crumble and finally came apart.  Mommy and daddy sat on the conduit a couple of times sort of looking around maybe thinking they had the wrong house.   Sadly, they aren’t coming around any more.  That is, until next year, we’re sure.

It’s amazing to see God’s little creatures doing everything He programmed into them in order to perpetuate their kind.  This is the first time I got interested in watching this bird thing that has enthralled Pat for a long time.  I’ll have to admit it has been fascinating, but I’m glad it’s over, for this year anyway, and now I can get back to something more important like, well, watching more Fox News, or something.



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