There's rosemary, that's for remembrance.
William Shakespeare: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

Monday, April 06, 2009

The Swallows of Sandpoint

I originally posted this in 2007 on the 19th of March. The story is exactly the same... the swallows are just a bit late arriving this year. There are new photos below the post. I really know it is spring when these wonderful little creatures come back home.

For eons swallows have been coming back to Mission San Juan Capistrano in California. They usually arrive around the feast of Saint Joseph, March 19th...TODAY. The mission plans a huge event in anticipation of the swallows appearance; people from all over the state and surrounding areas come to the mission with high hopes....but the swallows rarely arrive on the day of the event. I have seen them once and I have probably visited the mission dozens of times.

Swallows are interesting birds. The mission swallows make their nests out of mud and they are attached to the sides of the buildings. One year when there was restoration going on at the mission the swallows decided to nest on the side of a three story home close to the mission. The folks that lived there were really happy to have the birds as guests and were featured on a TV special. Bet they weren't happy when those hundreds of birds started pooping everywhere that year or the years that followed when they couldn't get the birds to nest back at the mission.

On April 1st, 2000 we broke ground and poured the foundation for our addition. There were construction guys everywhere and our four garages were open all day long. About 2 weeks into the project one of the workers said to me.....Hey, have you seen the birds that are nesting in your box over in the shop garage? Of course I had not...he showed me where he had seen the birds and low and behold there was a barn swallow swooping in and out of the garage with nest material. The bird had chosen an office box filled with policy and procedure manuals. The box was the kind with punch outs for lifting. The bird was landing in the lift opening and then hopping in, scratching around, flying out and repeating this over and over.

It turned out not to be one swallow but three, all taking turns flying in and out to make their nest. Not needing but one little thing for me to start worrying, I immediately wondered what would happen when we closed the garage for the night. Solution? Leave it open. My husband was as fascinated and concerned about the birds as I was and we spent hours watching those industrious birds.

It took only a few days for the nest to be completed and then began the hatching rotation. We think the three birds took turns sitting on the eggs. I read that males and females share this job. I didn't chronicle the time this first generation of birds lived in our garage box, but it was weeks. They would fly in and out, little bugs and insects in their mouths, feeding the egg sitter and waiting for those babies to hatch.

Eventually the feeding became more frequent and we heard the chirping of a multitude of babies all hungry at the same time. We would stand in the garage hidden by tools and boxes and watch these wonderful parents swoop in and out over and over again taking care of their blended family.

We took a zillion rolls of film. All we managed to capture at first was the blur of wings and tails, but sure enough one day there was a little head peeking out of the box slot. Our bird watching became longer and longer as we marveled at these babies. It had become a drive through restaurant for these sweet little birds; parents shopping for bugs, babies fighting over who occupied more of the slot and got fed first. We finally captured 3 babies in the slot right before they left the nest.

For two years anticipating the arrival of spring we started leaving the garage door open on March 19th. In 2001 the birds arrived March 31st and stayed until the end of July. In 2002 they came home April 5th and left on vacation early August. We decided that year we needed to stop leaving the garage open 24/7. Steve came up with the brilliant idea (really) to build a wooden box under the balcony that is right next to the garage opening and move the paper box into that wood one. We waited anxiously in 2003 for the swallows to arrive. They showed up a little early on March 17th. It took a day for them to find the box but when they did they began their yearly ritual of house keeping, throwing out old nest material and starting all over again.

The swallows have returned every year since that first generation hatched. We still watch them for hours, clap with happiness when we see the babies peek out for the first time and think they are GPS wonders. After leaving the nest parents and youngsters fly over the house for about 2 weeks occasionally staying overnight in the box. When everyone is fully oriented they leave on their fall and winter trip south.

There is still a lot of snow on the ground and few bugs at the moment. But no matter, these birds manage to make it back home every year and find enough to eat. Their birdar is active this year and they arrived right on time THIS MORNING!! I was coming back about 7:15 from getting the paper when I heard their familiar zzzrrpp...kind of like electricity singing along a power line. We are never sure if it is the parents or the babies that return but they are so very welcome! Here is the bird box under the balcony!

2009 adults have arrived!!!!


gina said...

Wow! What a great story, and what a great photo of the three babies! And to think, the year you decide to blog about them, they arrive on schedule!!! Cool!

Ex-Shammickite said...

That's a lovely post about the swallows returning to your cardboard box! Lovely picture of the baby birds! I was at the Mission in Capistrano 3 years ago, but it was in September.... no swallows! I believe the Capistrano people breed a certain kind of insect that the swallows love, and distribute the insect around the Mission grounds to encourage the swallows back on the right day.

Sling said...

Rosie,this is terrific in SO many ways!
Love the story,love that you guys have your hearts and minds in exactly the right place! :)

JessnBekahsmom said...

That is sooooo cool! I love it! You are so blessed to be in a place where you can experience that. It makes up for the weeks and weeks of snow, doesn't it? My dad has bluebirds at his house that come back every year. He builds bluebird boxes for them to nest in the trees.

Doesn't it make you wonder, though, where they went the year before they graced you with their presence?

Middle Child said...

Wonderful story. There was a lovely elderly lady who lived here before us, and when we bought the house there was a swallow's nest at the back door... it was something special to her. They haven't nested on the house yet but in a shed close by...lucky you

jan said...

How fascinating to have such charming yearly visitors. You'd be like the godparents for providing living space. Love the triplet's picture!!

Dan said...

Wow! What a great story! You and Steve are great to offer a home for the little birds! That's so sweet of you! They clearly love you guys!

madretz said...

you've warmed my heart this morning!

jp said...

You should let the swallows and the cats play together. I think they would get along well.

yellowdog granny said...

swallows are one of my favorite birds..them and hawks.

Miss Healthypants said...

That is just so cool! *smiles*

kenju said...

It's wonderful that you can play host to them year after year.

Chris said...

I love the swallows. I remember going to the mission in elementary school to see them return. We never did see them :(. I was there recently and thier mud nests are everywhere. Great pics!

more cowbell said...

This is a great story!

I never have understood the whole migration thing. Salmon, caribou, swallows, whales -- wtf animals, just go to the warm place and stay there! I would suck as an animal.

Jennie said...

Aw, I love that story. I love seeing the birds come back.