Thursday, 8 June 2017

Our Second Barn Swallow (Hirondelle rustique) Colony

     Quite a few of my recent posts have dealt with farms in one way or another. You are all familiar with the Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica colony at SpruceHaven, of course, and we are very fortunate this year to have been granted permission to monitor another colony at a nearby farm. Thanks to Sandy and Dave for making the arrangements with the owners of that location and many thanks to the owners for their cooperation
     It presents quite a contrast to the SpruceHaven situation since this barn is still home to a couple of horses. People are in and out of the barn all the time, the dogs go to visit the horses, a radio is playing and the swallows are totally habituated to all the comings and goings. It reminds me of my time spent working on a farm on weekends when I was a boy, when Barn Swallows were a standard feature in the cow sheds.
     The barn itself is a grand old structure.

     It is home to a thriving, ancestral colony of swallows. As of yesterday, we counted 58 nests, 26 of which contain eggs and 3 already have young. Some nest construction and refurbishment is still taking place so there is the possibility of even more productivity.

       It gives one a sense of history to be in a building such as this, a sentiment never evoked by a modern, efficient, aluminum-clad rectangular structure. The walls are solid and ancient, products of a bygone era when more attention was paid to the barn than was to the house.

      The sights, sounds and odours of the barn are evocative; the swallows confiding and unafraid.


     An old tractor looks ready to be pressed into service at any time.

     We know that a couple of nests have already been abandoned, although there is no apparent reason for the desertion. A single egg, never incremented, in the same nest each week and stone cold, is a sure fire indicator that we are not going to have a family there. We leave the nest and egg in situ, however, so as not to interfere with whatever natural processes are occurring. Jim removed the egg from one of the nest so that you can see how tiny, and exquisitely beautiful, it is, and carefully replaced it.

     We are able to monitor most of the nests with the aid of a mirror on a telescopic pole, so that we minimize the degree of disturbance at the nest.


     As can be clearly seen on the nest above which has been constructed atop an old nest, abundant horse manure is the preferred construction material. Straw and hay are interwoven into the dung and the wall of the old nest becomes like the lathing in an old house. When it dries it is very strong indeed, and doubtless has a certain insulation component.
     In the following picture the inside of a nest can be viewed; feathers always form a significant part of the nest lining.

     The horses on the farm are both friendly and beautiful and contribute in no small measure to the lining of the nest by virtue of the copious amounts of hair shed from their manes and tails.

     Francine was initially quite wary of the horses, but she is getting more used to them with every visit, and now enjoys a little intimate contact. 

     The horses remained outside during our last visit until we had finished, but often they are in there with us as we check the nests. They are sociable creatures and love to nuzzle, so it's handy to have someone there to keep them at bay when you are up on the ladder.

     Nests are to be found throughout the barn, in every nook and cranny, and often very close to each other.

     Not all the swallows have succeeded in securing a mate and floaters in the population often congregate together on the wires.

     The barn and the paddock are a great home for horse and swallow alike.

     In case you ever had any doubt about the power of a horse's teeth, take note of the chewing they have done on the fence rail.

     There is good reason to always offer the horse an apple on the flat of your hand!
     Two gorgeous dogs greet every visitor with loud barks, until they get to know you, but in truth their tails are wagging the whole time and they are about as sociable and non-threatening as it gets.

     With our work done, it was time to change back out of rubber boots into other shoes.

     It was another job well done! Many thanks to Francine and Jim, who not only took their own shift on Friday, but came out to help Miriam and me yesterday. We appreciate their dedication.


  1. This is so like friends of ours up North. They have a huge barn, part of which is stabling and part home to chicken and guinea fowl. Music is playing 24 hours, there is masses of activity going on in daylight hours, and the swallows are happy with it all. I see the swallows fly so close to the horses who are well bred and a bit nervy but they ignore the birds totally. Sadly they are a bit far from us to see very often.
    Good that you can monitor these birds and see what is going on. Thanks for sharing some great photos, and of course as a horse lover I enjoyed those photos as well.
    Have a good day Diane

  2. What an amazing post David,loved the long mirror,great way to monitor nest counts,the Barn Swallows have it made for them,they have warmth, nest materials and insects,such as fly which follow the Horses to and throw.

  3. I read wonderful pieces like this one from you, David, and get the impression that yours is a totally different world to mine. Everything 'rural' over here seems to have been 'modernised' and stripped of all its character. I suspect that what you are showing us is witness to a Menenite influence?

    My love to you both - - Richard

    1. Hi Richard: There might be a little Mennonite influence on this farm, but minimal I suspect. The last blog is about a farm near Hamilton, way beyond Mennonite country.

  4. I like Barn Swallows, fortunately they are still common in our country. Very interesting post with great photos!

  5. I like the way all is being monitored. Barn swallows are still around here and they look quite content in that barn!

  6. Barns and birds, remember well when I lived on a farm (8 years just after being married, but not now) the birds in the barn.
    The photos are lovely, and those horses - great.

  7. Your Barn Swallows are much redder than ours...........

    Nice to see them in a real barn too!

    1. Conversely, I have always noticed how much paler they are in other parts of the world. In South Africa I initially thought it was a different species!

  8. Hi Both and another wonderful post, what a barn with all its nooks and crannies and great to see all the Swallows nests. I was surprised to see how small the egg was. Your Barn Owls doing well, four Owlets and growing rapidly. All the best, John

  9. That's a real "vintage" barn - great to see the Barn Swallows doing well.

  10. Very interesting post. It´s nice to see a new swallow nest in that old barn. Here nesting barn swallow is increasing each year but you find thm only below bridges or tunnels

  11. Fantastic images David, I love the Barn Swallows.

  12. That farm and buildings look so much like a past Swallow project of my own. After a number of years the owner suddenly took exception the Swallows' huge amount of excrement, one particular lot falling upon recently purchsed shelving. He ended up blocking every possible entarnce point for the swallows and knocking down all the old nests. It was rather sad for the swallow sbut sadder still to see the mean spirited way the man behaved.

    Good luck with your project David. Hope it doesn't happen to you.

  13. What an amazing old barn, and its good that it is home for so many Swallows, hopefully for many generations to come.
    All the best Gordon.

  14. Hello, I love the big old barn. The horses and dogs are beautiful. I love the barn swallows. I am so glad to see they are doing well in this barn. It is great they all live in harmony. Wonderful post and photos. Happy Sunday, enjoy your day and new week ahead!

  15. Hola David, preciosas fotos y gran idea la observación del nido de Golondrinas. Saludos.

  16. Beautiful as you watch the swallows as carefully as possible. With mirror and lanpje and this is so beautiful to see. Pretty we can follow them.
    The horses are also beautifully photographed. And yes hahahah ... also here with us the horses eat the wooden fence on hahahahahaha ..... Nice pictures also of the barn, the horses and the fence.

    Sincerely, Helma