- Leslie Milbourne
Lifted in thin air they dance. Resting on the barn ledge they chat. From late April to late August, I am entertained year after year. Barn swallows, with their shimmering cobalt blue feathers and deeply forked tails, bring me joy, and I celebrated their return in spring as they swooped into the barn. Throughout the summer as they go about their daily tasks, I observe them while milking the goats. Sitting on the milk stand in an open face barn, I am grateful there are no doors, as doors would prevent me from the most glorious performances. I watch as I milk, hoping to squirt the milk in the pail as I tend to goats and observing nature’s show. The main stage is a six-acre field between the barn and the education center, Bently. Backstage is inside the barn, where barn swallows have major discussions while perched on ledges that fill the air with chatty chat, while others repair aging nests of mud adhered to beams, or tend to babies snuggled inside. I feel quite privileged in being welcomed to observe the entertainment on both stages.
Yesterday, searching the sky I found it still and quiet with motionless gray clouds sending down sprinkles of rain. I wondered, where are the barn swallows? Did they leave? They have been entertaining me since April 23 when they returned from Florida, Mexico, or Central America. It is an honor to have them choose our barn! When they return each spring, I celebrate. I note down in Wind Dance’s Phenology Record book the date they return, and then I observe each morning, while milking. And I wonder where are they now on this August morn? When the drizzle finishes and I look to the sky again, one barn swallow darts about, then another, then the whole family dances! I am so happy they are still here.
There are so many things that I love about hosting the barn swallows. Their aerial flights are performed with agility and grace as they flit over the field in search of flying insects – at times the entire extended family of a dozen or more share the sky. They often move in close proximity with swift unison, flapping wings together interspersed with short glides while diving and rising, and shifting directions. It’s a gorgeous ballet. In unison. When they are ready to rest and come into the barn they glide in and quickly put on the breaks to rest on ledges or tend to eager babies. The babies are delightful and usually in groups of five per nest. When they are big enough to peer over the edge they call for food or have gaping mouths ready to receive a tasty insect. Observations can reveal many aspects of nature. I noticed the young birds don’t poop in their nest, they either turn around, hang their butt out, and let the poop drop on the floor, or one of their parents carries the little sack of poo away. Poop management for all species is vital as proper recycling of nutrients is necessary for sustainability, as well as maintaining species health. One of the most fascinating facts I learned about barn swallows is that after the first brood fledges, they stick around, and when the next brood is raised, the first brood helps care for them. Tender and sweet siblings. It isn’t long before more than a dozen swallows dart about peacefully. However, soon all will leave.
Over the years I have embraced the return of the barn swallows with glee, as they have become my summer companions. When they wander away there will be a silence in the barn void of chat and activity. As winter passes, spring emerges again, and we honor Earth Day on April 22, I will be sitting on the milking stool watching for the return of the barn swallows. And when they do, it will be a celebration.
Nature is filled with so many celebratory moments each day. My wish for each of you is to get outside often, be present, tune in, and enjoy the surprises and entertainment that nature holds, and in the doing you may find it restores your own being.
Wander and find joy in nature,