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Birdwatching: Tarlett Slough welcomes new barn swallow family

By Dr. Madeline A. Kalbach

For the Observer

Published on July 11, 2017 2:28PM

The Tarlatt swallow babies are hungry for flies of any kind or any other insect that comes their way!

MADELINE KALBACH PHOTOS

The Tarlatt swallow babies are hungry for flies of any kind or any other insect that comes their way!

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Barn swallows have true swallow-tails. It looks like one of the babies wants more.

Barn swallows have true swallow-tails. It looks like one of the babies wants more.

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Barn swallow nests are cup-like in shape and built mainly of mud.

Barn swallow nests are cup-like in shape and built mainly of mud.

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Barn Swallow parents continue to feed their babies after they leave the nest.

Barn Swallow parents continue to feed their babies after they leave the nest.

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Earlier this year several new kiosks went up at a few of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge units. They have a little roof to protect the information posted on the board below from the weather. Not only did visitors to the refuge notice and appreciate the new information boards, but some of the birds did too. The Tarlatt structure serves as a favorite perch for grassland birds, such as the savannah sparrows who nest nearby, but the happiest bird of all is the barn swallow because the kiosk provided housing. A pair set up housekeeping at Tarlatt, for the first time ever to my knowledge, under the kiosk’s eaves. In by-gone days barn swallows nested in caves, but they now prefer man-made structures.

Barn swallows have always eaten their meals at Tarlatt, catching tasty insects on the wing as they fly up and down Tarlatt Slough or over the grassy fields, but never have I found a nesting pair of barn swallows at Tarlatt. They must love it there because they now have a home closer to their food source.

Nest building began in late May. The parent birds diligently built a cup shaped nest under the eaves of the kiosk using mud and grass. It seemed to require a lot of labor on their part because the fierce winds and pelting rain of the late spring caused the nest to fall apart in spots. So it needed repairs before the pair could move in to raise a family. They have now moved in and four tiny, mostly featherless young can be seen poking their heads up with their soft, yellow bills gaping wide open waiting for Mom and Dad to bring them a feast.

The barn swallow is the only swallow that is truly swallow-tailed and the only one with white tail spots. According the Cornell Ornithological lab, legend says, “the barn swallow got its forked tail because it stole fire from the gods to bring to people. An angry deity hurled a firebrand at the swallow, singeing away its middle tail feathers.”

Swallows, in general, do not stay on the refuge or the Peninsula all year. Barn swallows are no exception. They are summer residents and breeding birds in our area, but they winter in Central and South America. According to the Cornell Lab, the barn swallow is the most abundant and widely distributed swallow species in the world. It breeds throughout the Northern Hemisphere and winters in much of the Southern Hemisphere.

The barn swallow is about the size of half a submarine sandwich. The adult bird is an iridescent, cobalt blue above, and a cinnamon color below. It flies swiftly and low, often only a few inches above the ground or water when searching for flies of any kind and other tasty insects such as ants, wasps, bees, beetles, butterflies and moths.

Soon the babies will fledge, but Mom and Dad will keep feeding them until they are confident enough to fend for themselves. If you go to see them, don’t linger too long or the parents will hesitate to go to the nest. It is best to have a quick look and step back!







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