Swallows take a big bite out of bugs

Swallows take a big bite out of bugs By Bob Karolevitz The swallows have returned. I can tell by the mottling on the pickup hood.

They are messy birds, but I'm not going to write an anti-swallow column about them. I did that once about English sparrows (I called them eaves-droppers), and the bird lovers rose up and responded. And not too kindly, either!

So I won't carry on about their unsightly, mud-dauber nests or the droppings on the barn and granary floors. Instead, I'll just say nice things about their graceful flights, their unique forked tails and all the bugs they gobble up on the wing.

They are the P-51s of the bird world, twisting and turning through the air like war planes in a dogfight, except they are filling up on mosquitoes, gnats and moths in mouths too big for their tiny bodies.

When I'm on the riding mower, swallows swoop and do Immelmann turns around me because I scare up lots of insects from the grass. I never see them catch anything because they're too fast, but all the bird books tell me that's what they do, and I believe what I read.

Phyllis and I have been to Capistrano a couple of times, but the return of the swallows to our place doesn't get the publicity that those who come back to the California mission at the same time each year do. Our birds don't seem to mind, though, as they move in seemingly oblivious to the annual news stories about their West Coast cousins.

It was Aristotle who first wrote that "one swallow does not a summer make." On the other hand, a whole lot of them sure do. I think they bring back a few extra friends each year (or maybe it's their kids), so nesting room is becoming a premium.

For instance, we've got to keep the garage door closed when they're looking for real estate or they'd probably be hauling in mouthfuls of mud to set up housekeeping over my work bench. People and dogs don't seem to bother them as they seek out places to build their adobe-like haciendas.

Each evening they line up on the electric wire stretching from our security light pole to the granary. That's the only time we can count how many we actually have around the farm. Frankly, when you've seen one swallow, yuo've seen 'em all, so it's a little difficult to take a census as they dart about during the day.

Swallows don't do too well in the song department. They can't compete with meadowlarks or wrens with their twittering, but their chirping isn't particularly hard on the ear like the raucous call of the bluejay.

I don't know where swallows go during the wintertime, but they tell me that some of them take mighty long flights, going as far as the equator. No wonder they fuel up on bugs while they're here. They've also got to feed a nestful of hungry young eaters, and that's a big job when there are just tiny gnats on the menu.

It's too bad for swallows that worms don't fly! But I digress.

At any rate, I'll put up with their messiness in exchange for their voracious appetites and air-borne shows. I can always clean up in the fall after they're gone, and I can leave the pickup out of the granary so it doesn't get spattered as it's parked under their nests in the rafters.

If it doesn't get too bad, I can take a few swallows myself � and I don't mean Kool-Aid!

© 2000 Robert F. Karolevitz

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