Tuesday, February 7, 2012

In praise of barnswallows- a view of parenting

Its March 1983 outside Columbia Missouri on north Highway 63

Barn swallow mother perches on rim of nest
In a cold barn the photographer sits in the dark
practicing quiet trying to stay warm and explore good ways to unobtrusively light the spidery scratchy place so that she can see something... anything ...
some action besides the top of a black head high up in a nest on the barn rafter.

This action or change occurs in brief surprises in-between very long periods of no action For some days she has watched from a loft across and above her head as the nest was recycled Cleaned and lined with new mud and some of mother birds own indigo feathers. Then eggs were laid, one each day and, glory be! None of the awful predators came.

Each day the watcher/waiter/photographer climbs into her place and two females sit in a cold barn
one on eggs and the other in hay with a camera
Again and again-- like a fighter jet she swoops in carrying food

watching, dreaming, and incubating the one on the nest has come to accept / tolerate the the other
Barn swallows, Hirundo rustica, have thrived with the human race.  They once lived in caves but now there are barns and porches all increasing in number

Mother carries food to the noisy nestlings
One morning there is shell on the barn floor and weak squeaking above she climbs and watches breathless from her loft the nestlings grow in their demands, exponentially
The mother becomes a flying carrier service
catering to growing mouths.
They are a chorus, parsons or judges, always above her, looking down, looking demonic and ridiculous
Soon they are nearly her size and their wide open mouths are endless.  The photographer is reminded of parenting. Her own children wouldn't like the affinity she feels with this tiny  straining bird.

Barn swallows wait on a barbed wire fence for the evening bugs
The birdlings grow beyond the nest, bursting its limits.  Always one will take off first.  Maybe it hates crowds, maybe it is not quite "right" and has fallen or been pushed,  maybe it is restless or impatient, or simply believes flying can't be that hard.  One will always fledge, 'trying his wings' on the long drop, but may not be ready to fly.
Those around barn swallows have come to expect at least one babe will fall or fail flying each year and not just once.  With luck these people have learned and have and the means to re-place them in the nest or protect them from the cats (check out Baby barn swallow stories)
Barnswallow feeds fledge
Soon they all fledge and for the next two weeks parenting is on the wing.

Later, it is one of those summer evenings when the tree frogs are a choir, the air is a bit cooler, the grass is up, and after dinner we wait for the lightening bugs. The barn swallows and bats wait for the mosquitoes to lift off the fields.

I am reminded of a comment my aunt Mary Bumgarner made when my son was new born. In an amused but knowing voice she said, "The thing about parenting is that it is so daily."

For a lovely set of references about the barn swallow including short essays by people that have lived around them I highly recommend this site: excellent summary facts about barnswallows

Stay tuned we will create a gallery of Barn swallows.



Gay Bumgarner through friends and family said...

Check out most of the happy family at:


Such brave people.

Jane Flink said...

Dear Sharon -- How I loved the layout on barn swallows!  I had no knowledge of them until we moved into our new house on the Ashland high prairie last October.  I have a large paned window in my office at the front of the house, and while working I began to see birds swooping in and around the the stucco columns that flank the front doorway. Pretty soon it became obvious that the birds had formed a nest at the top of a column where the roof comes down.  I loved watching their airiness and grace -- they simply made me happy.  One day Jeni took a chair out and used her iphone to catch a shot of the fledgelings in the nest.  Telling my story at a party, everybody said what a poor thing I was to be invaded by barn swallows, dirty birds, they said, and what's worse, once they establish a nest, the will come back every year with all their progeny.  Well, yes, we had to form a poop detail for the stone entryway, but that was nothing compared to the joy they brought me.  I look forward to spring . . . 
Now, let us take a step back. I loved your Christmas letter, and howld over the horse story.  We had three daughters, and they all saved their babysitting money to buy a horse.  We lived in Wisconsin then, in a huge house on four acres of land with a stable on the property adjoining, so it was a given.  I could tell you stories of the three horses from now till the cows come home, but you can imagine -- three young teenagers, three horses, produced a world of fun and a world of crises -- telephone calls:  "Your horses are out."  Usually when it was 17 below zero and the roads were impassable . . . I concluded that a horse has the personality of a cat that weighs 6 or 700 pounds.
Now, fast forward -- I told the Salonistas that you would be at the BCHS and do, please, let us know what we can do to help, even if that includes staying out of it and showing up on the appropriate day. The last, I feel sure, we will do.  I look forward to seeing you then.
 Blessings to you and yours this new yeaar -- 2011, what a strange number.  The two ones don't seem to finish the thing but rather, allow it to drift off into space

Ted Pack said...

Hi Sharon,

I'm glad you liked it. I'm honored you thought it was "link-worthy", too.
[Gay] was a heck of a photographer. I particularly liked the way she got the little heads lined up in the one captioned "Mother carries food to the noisy nestlings" - the top one.

Elizabeth Tolmach said...

Thanks, Sharon!  What great photos; and yes, the little birds do look a bit frightening!!

Happy new year to you and your family!  How's Morgan liking college life??