The Marvellous Barn Swallow
They have small, flat black beaks. There are two rust colored areas one above and the other below the beak. Are glossy blue above and wear a similar glossy blue bib on the underside, the rest of the underside being white. The wings are pointed and their tail edges too are pointed like needles, growing longer with age. The rest of the tail feathers have white spots. Their legs are half-feathered, black and their feet are very frail.
They are migratory birds arriving in my country in early September and leaving by mid-March. They spend all their day time flying around.
I had seen barn swallows before in the Himalayas. They had painstakenly built a nest by collecting wet mud from rain puddles, wet fields etc. They then made mud marbles out of them. Using grasses, they glued them together using their beaks.
The nest, which may seem to be plain to look at but each is actually a designer home. Why? Because its shape depends on where it is made and what support is available etc. So it can be shaped like a cup, a bowl, a cone or be oval shaped and inside it is lined with feathers collected by them in flight. Note the shapes of the nests in the picture above and the video below – different support, different architecture. I have seen many other variations.
I once came across a nest built inside a shop. At first it looked like it was empty but then just when I was taking its photo, a bird flew towards the nest and clinged on to its side. Suddenly 5 chicks popped up magically all at once. They all opened their mouths wide, the parent fed one of them and flew away. All this in a fraction of a second. The chicks simultaneously went down. The nest seemed empty again. It was like nothing had happened. This process was repeated many times.
Then one day, I got to see them again. Where? At my home in Bangalore, I heard some clicking sounds from my window, I looked out and was surprised to see a small flock flying around. The flock not only stayed here that day but a whole of 5 months. They would fly everyday from morning till evening, and to drink water they would swoop down and drink in flight. Only on two occasions I saw them them take a break from their flight to sit on a ledge. This was to bask in the sunlight. Those were mostly the young ones. On 20th March, a day before equinox this year they disappeared just like they had suddenly appeared one fine day.
Insects, caught in flight, are their main food. Increasing use of pesticides & insecticides means less food for these marvellous birds.
Their normal habitat – wetlands are disappearing at a rapid rate due to human activity and climate change.
The Barn Swallow has been chosen as an ambassador for this year’s World Migratory Bird Day event on 10 May, 2017.