For as long as I can remember, we have left the garage door open every summer. In the country you can do things like this. But that’s not why we do it. Well… maybe it is?

You see, near my house (in the country), we have a seasonal resident: the barn swallow. And late every spring, the swallows come back. These amazing creatures then take up residence in our garage for a handful of months, and move on in mid-September. This is one of the most magical things of summer.

Barn swallows are a beautiful, slight bird with a rich onyx backside and a rust or cream-colored underbelly (one is male, the other female, I presume). They are adroit fliers, zipping gracefully in and out of the garage frequently, and often around the lawn mower, as they catch bugs that kick up while mowing. They build well-fortified nests (seemingly overnight) by combining dirt, small twigs, grass, horse hair, and saliva…onto a wall. My garage is an ideal spot, they have learned over generations, as I have concrete beams running the length of the garage. Each year we have at least one nesting pair, and occasionally two. Summer 2010, we have 3 nesting pair.

One bird will always tend to the nest before the babies hatch, and the other usually perches nearby. Once the babies hatch, it is usually an intensive cycle of constantly feeding the 5 or so mouths that stick out over the top of the nest edge. At this point, the parents often become chatty whenever I am in the garage and will sometimes flutter around as a distraction or irritant.

The birds seem to know, however, that my garage is safe. They let me know if I’m loitering too long for their comfort, but they also have grown more tolerant as the summer has come.

The babies are hatched in at least 2 of the nests now and they have matured in no time at all. Last week, it was 5 enormous beaks sticking up over the edge, and this week, they are piled on top of each other in the nest. They will fly this week.

On Monday evening, I sat on my porch (around the house from the garage) with my dogs, and one of the adults came up under the porch and fluttered in front of me for a few moments, chattering. I understood this to be an announcement that the babies were getting ready to fly.

Sure enough; when I got home on Tuesday, two of the babies were out of the nest and huddled together on a pipe. And last night, one entire nest took flight as I walked into the garage. This brings back memories of sitting with my mom on the garage steps, waiting silently as the parents encouraged the babies… and slowly, each one would garner the courage and step out over the edge.

Barn swallows are as much a rite of summer in the country as sunscreen and barbecue. So long as I have a garage, I welcome their residency. And I look forward to the day when my daughter and I can sit on the garage steps, waiting for that first flight.


Retro re-post of the day: Renaissance Man (not the movie).


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