Tuesday 26 July 2011

A Swallow’s Tale

Last summer wasps colonised the underhang above our front door and with mixed feelings I zapped the nest with spray foam. This year swallows chose the same place. The nest took shape and on 12th June the parents began to sit on it. Through the window over the door was a good vantage point and I watched for much of the next 3 weeks. Surely they shouldn’t leave the eggs for so long on such a cold day?

Eventually they hatched and the sitting switched to non-stop airlifts of food and refuse collection. The parents spotted me behind the stack of books in the windowsill that acted as my hide and screamed as they hovered in front of the lead panes.

Each morning I’d take a look until Sunday 10th July, 8 days later, the nest was gone. Outside in the pouring rain, there it was on the stone slabs. One dead on its back, the other two face down in the nest but breathing, parents out of sight.  

I looked in my workshed and improvised a nestbox out of a plastic shelving tray covered with a plank fixed by rubber bungee. A lump of timber to weigh it down and wedge the nest in place with a stick across the front to stop it falling out then placed it on the nearest windowsill.

When the rain eased off the parents returned, one with its beak full of flies, and flew repeated sorties into the corner where the nest had been. Frustratingly they perched nearby but failed to look at my impromptu haven.
I got a laptop to the open window and played back the sound of baby swallows crying for food, but still they didn’t get the message. After 20 minutes of pressing the play button I gave up on the strategy and, feeling quite sad, took the dog for a walk.

By the time I got back the parents were flying into the new position of the nest feeding their remaining 2 chicks. By now I felt as involved, committed and protective as the natural parents and enjoyed watching their progress.

For some reason I was not expecting their maiden flight until much later but on 18th July off they went. They both struggled but one of them made it to the greenhouse roof and subsequently took up residence in the workshed.

The other hopped around beneath the nest unable to fly but calling out each time the parents came by with food. Its wing was damaged and the rain was pouring down once more. I filled a beach bucket with wood shavings and rested it on its side in the dry beside the front door. By the time I went to bed the chick had settled in to its shelter.

For the next 2 days I watched as the chick seemed to get stronger but no closer to flying. Someone said I should put it out of its misery, but I didn’t.

In recent weeks the house had sprung a couple of leaks through the roof but I delayed calling a builder because of the nesting swallows. As the nest was no longer in use I called him and as he drove up he ran over the crippled baby. I didn’t have the heart to tell him.

If you can bear to watch it here’s the video diary. At least 1 survived.


1 comment:

  1. You should be so proud of yourself- I was really touched by this story and well done to you for taking so much care and time over the chicks. I'd like to think I'd have done the same although I'm not as resourceful! Great post, albeit a little harrowing in places :-)