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The Talking Barn Swallow

Spring 2005

I just read about your barn swallows, and feel compelled to tell you about ours. This spring when they returned I counted just 6, but by fall I have counted as many as 60 on the electric lines in the early evening rest before the big mosquito hunt. I know they hatch at least two broods, sometimes three, in a summer. Given the large increase in population by fall, I think the first brood must also become parents their first summer. I wonder how many years they live, and where all the others go if 60 leave on the fall migration and only 6 return. I surely hope their mortality rate is not that high. They provide much entertainment, and are easy to watch even as busy as we are.

My most interesting story is the time a swallow actually spoke to me. No, it didn't speak English, but the communication couldn't have been any clearer if it had.

I was mowing on our big noisy riding mower, half zoned out because I was more than half through with the 4-5 hour job. I came past the old machine shed, where they always nest.

We always leave the door cracked open a foot or so to accommodate them. The swallows often swoop around me as I mow, catching the insects as I stir them up. Suddenly there was a swallow two inches in front of my face madly flapping its wings, as though to scream "Stop! Stop!"

I did. When I backed the mower up, I saw a fledgling just out of its nest, too new to flying to get out of my way. Thank goodness for that parent's intervention. I've never felt closer to a wild animal, and it will always give me a mixture of warm fuzzies and goose bumps when I realize how smart that bird was. It was able to speak to me as if we were not entirely different species. I tell many people this story, and even those who really aren't into wildlife are amazed by it.

Just wanted to share it again.

Donna H. in South Dakota

In Praise of Barn Swallows has links to other Barn Swallow stories. It is one of my Miscellaneous Essays. There are other essays.

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