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Despite This we stay- May 28, 2009

Barn Swallows

by Carol Dunn

HUERFANO- The barn swallow is a seasonal bird in Huerfano County.  Capistrano, California has nothing over on us – we have our “swallows of Huerfistrano.”  Between May and July bazillions of them show up out of the blue and start building relationships that last all of six weeks.  The female barn swallow has an intricate checklist she uses when selecting a male to breed with.  On the list are the very important qualities of length of tail, symmetry of tail, chest color, neighborliness, speed of nest building, durability of nest, quantity of bugs caught per hour, and the all-important amount of time spent watching the grass grow.  The males also have a checklist.  It consists of two items:

•  Female

•  Breathing. 

    As builders, barn swallows are more like electricians than finish carpenters, ie. they don’t clean up after themselves.  The faster they can get the nest built, the faster they can set up house with the little lady.  They build their untidy mud-grass-feather-debris nests beneath overhangs on barns and houses, and cleanliness is less important than speed.  It seems the barn swallow has only three missions in life: eat, reproduce, poop – not in that particular order and with special emphasis on poop.    

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources lists the barn swallow as a “species of least concern.”  This basically means they are everywhere and build nests overnight on people’s porches from Maine to Spain and no one much likes the way their porch looks after the nest has been there a few days.  As a matter of fact, after fifty or so of these nests are built under your barn eaves, the barn is pretty much swallowed by poop.  Each time you want to go into or out of your barn, you run a gauntlet, not so much different from a video game: advance, stop, retreat, jig left, advance, jig right.  You are, of course, trying to avoid the liquid bombs from above.  But the guy who just arrived from Texas and happens to drive by at just the right time to see you dodge and weave says to his wife, “Must have been snowed in a lot last winter – he’s gone plumb batty.” 

    Barn swallows fill a very important niche in our world.  They make constructive use of mud puddles, something none of us over the age of five has managed to do.  They also eat lots of bugs, although they will not touch an adobe bug.  Well, even barn swallows have their standards.