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A Bitersweet Barn Swallow Story

Summer 2007

[Ed. Note: I have a page praising barn swallows. It isn't technical. I also have a page from two experts on what to do when baby birds fall from the nest. It is grim. Every year two or three people write to me about their experiences. This one made me damp around the eyeballs and brought to mind a saying from church: "I cannot do everything, but I can do one thing". It is better to have tried and failed than to have never cared enough to try.]

I have been horseback riding at one barn for many years. When summer comes so do hundreds of barn swallows. Almost every day when Iím riding I will spot a dead swallow on the ground that has fallen 30-40 feet from its nest. It will either die from the fall or from starvation.

Every time I see a live one I want to take it home to feed and hopefully save it, but I don't, knowing that my mom will never let me. But it just so happened that one day I saw a baby barn swallow on the ground who was only a week or two old. He had so little balance that when he tried to walk he fell on his face. Since the boards in the roof where they nest are 30-40 feet above the ground it was impossible for me to place it back in its nest. There are about 50 nests up there with babies in them, another obstacle. So my friend and I picked him up so he would not get trampled and put him on a windowsill. After our long day we went to check on him. He was still breathing and was very hungry. When my mom came to pick me up I begged her to let me take me home. I already knew what to feed him because a staff member had told me it was safest to feed him the healthiest kind of cat food mixed with water, to make a mush he could swallow.

As soon has I got home I put him on my porch in a nest (which I found abandon a few years earlier) to get him away from my three cats. I took cat food from the refrigerator, heated it up to air temperature and fed him with an eyedropper. At first he wouldn't eat it, so I placed some on his beak and he nibbled at it. I woke up every hour that night to feed him and he just kept eating little nibbles.

The next day I took him back to the barn so he would not be alone as I rode. I kept him outside, up high and away from the cats and dogs. When I went to feed him he would lift his head up, stretch his neck out, open his mouth and chirp like crazy. I knew this was normal for birds to do with their mothers so I would stuff his mouth and wipe his nostrils. I kept this up every hour for two more days. He seemed to be getting stronger and eating more. Two nights ago I took the one and only picture I have of him and me.

The day after that was the fourth day and he was doing great! I couldn't take him to the barn with me because I was going somewhere with my instructor, so I had taught my neighbor how to feed him and left him with her. I went over everything and knew she would be OK.

When I came home I found that he had eaten like normal, stretching his neck up and chirping like crazy the first couple of times but when she went the fourth time he wouldn't eat. My neighborís mother tried to help her. They said he took a couple of labored breaths and passed away in her motherís hand.

I feel horrible and guilty that I wasn't there, and I am stilling crying to this day. I know that he must have been sick when I took him home. I know his mother kicked him out of the nest or that he just fell and his parents didn't care and / or couldn't carry him back up to the nest and he injured himself on the fall. I am writing this to let other people know that you should still try to help an animal, because if I hadn't of taken him home he would have died that day. I am glad I got to spend three days with that wonderful bird and I know I will never meet another bird like him. I will try to save more barn swallows as the summer goes, on knowing that even a couple of days count.

Alix P.

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

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