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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Empty Nest Drama

One of the advantages to my chosen lifestyle involving working at home is to be involved with backyard nature. For several years now we have hosted families of barn swallows under the carriage house roof, just a few feet from my studio. They are interesting birds to observe in that there nesting is under our scrutiny, and they constantly fly around us in gliding circles, eating insects, and occasionally bombing cats and blue jays.

A few nights ago my husband Bill came out to visit me in the studio. He found a live baby bird had fallen 10 feet below the nest, so we set up a ladder and I put him back with his 2 siblings. We have observed many nestlings, and thought it unusual that these particular parents were not around. They were not on the nearby pipes, but the next morning they were flying around in eternal circles and feeding bugs to the babies.

Now the story gets more exciting. Yesterday morning was beautiful. Shasta was off from her job at Grounds for Sculpture, , so after our walk, we were having family breakfast and coffee on the patio, a rare pleasant moment, when Bill once again noticed the swallow parents extremely upset and circling very close to the nest. We all rushed over to the nest, and to my shock, there was a black snake draping across the nest!! I started screaming to Bill to get the ladder. Shasta just screamed hysterically. I grabbed my heavy kiln gloves and a garden shovel, flew up the ladder, and flipped the shy and embarrassed snake onto my husband's Honda where it landed with a thud and then disappeared under the fence and into my neighbor's yard. Then I surveyed the damages. I removed one tiny dead baby, then another larger one, and then found a squirming live and apparent healthy one that did not want to go back into that nest. He squirmed out and landed on the ground twice. Twice Shasta handed him up to me and I pushed him back into the nest, and gently stroked his tiny head and attempted to calm him down. He finally stayed put and the frantic parents came back.

Now we have a theory about this particular family. We think that they are an equivalent to irresponsible teen parents. About 10 years ago, when the swallows first came, they struggled with Bill to get permission to build a mud nest and keep it. If it was too close to one of our cars he removed it. He stapled old garden gloves over my parking space to discourage nesting and bird poop over my car. Eventually they came to an agreement, and the same nest has been reused for many years, seasons, and births. The previous parents hung out at night and daytime resting on the nearby ceiling pipes. They were always close by and parented satisfactorily. We loved looking at the babies as their eager heads and wide beaks awaited the constant feeding followed by the exciting day of flight school as they lined up on the pipes for take off. About 3 years ago their behavior changed, so we assumed that it was a new set of parents, and most likely the original parents had gotten old and died. But babies were born with no issues. We have observed a larger group of adults flying together occasionally. We think this year's parents have been hanging and partying with their friends at night.

All day yesterday junior stood up on the edge of the nest as though he did not want to be there, and could you blame him? His siblings were murdered on top of him earlier that day! The parents circled him closely and anxiously as they tried to get him to fly. It was very hard to concentrate on my glass with all the excitement. At 3 pm he was missing from the nest. Then around 4pm, Shasta and Bill observed from the house that he was on the ground. Unlike other birds, swallows NEVER have flight school from the ground!! By evening he was flying in low circles, and eventually found the cable wire to the studio to be a good perch for his frequently needed rest.

This morning he is circling around the back door. Hopefully he has learned to catch bugs on the fly! He just perched outside the kitchen window where Bill took his picture (above).
Exhale. Tomorrow Shasta moves into an apartment in Montclair. More "empty nest drama" is expected.

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