Barn Swallows by W. Wander

WHEN I was a youngster,—and that, let me tell you, young friends, was some time ago,—they used to say that swallows lived in the mud all winter, as the eels do. The books made no such stupid blunder; only the ignorant people, such as never seem to use their eyes or their reason. It was one of the popular errors of the time. Silly as the notion seems, it has been held by a great many respectable persons.

Possibly the error may have arisen from the fact that the moment the swallows appear in any locality, in the spring of the year, they immediately search out some muddy place, where they can get materials for their nests. First they carry a mouthful of mud, then some threads of dry hay or straw, then more mud, and so on. These frequent visits to a marshy locality might readily lead an unobserving person to imagine that the birds came from the muddy recesses in the banks. But, of course, they are on a very different errand.

Having commenced their nests, the swallows rest during the warmest part of the day, so that the sun may dry their work, and make it hard and strong. Then more mud is plastered on—more threads of straw; and so the industrious birds continue until the body of the nest is completed. A nice, soft lining of fine grass or hair finishes the whole, and makes a summer home for both birds and their young.

Unlike most other birds, swallows often repair old nests, if the frosts and storms of winter have injured them, as they generally do; and sometimes the  birds come back to the same locality for several years. They select some unexposed corner, under the eaves of a barn or house, if possible pretty high from the ground, and in a very few days the entire dwelling, lining and all, will be completed.

If unmolested, barn swallows will form quite a colony in the space of a few years. But, if their nests are injured or torn down, or their young ones are stolen away or disturbed, the birds forsake the locality forever. Where a number of families live together, their chattering, when, as the evening comes on, they are catching gnats and flies for supper, or feeding their young ones, is very pleasant and diverting. And there is music in their language, too—music which a thoughtful person is ever glad to hear.

Last summer, when business was dull, I went on a vacation, away up into the Granite State. While passing through the town of Unity (my little niece insists upon calling it Utiny—but she will speak plainer one of these years), my attention was called to a small village church on the wayside. Around the entire building, under the eaves, were brackets, some three inches in width, and perhaps as far apart. In the spaces thus formed were hundreds upon hundreds of swallows’ nests. Hardly a single space was left unoccupied, while many contained two, and sometimes three nests. Not content with the eaves, the colony had commenced upon the belfry, and far up towards the spire every possible nook and corner seemed to be spoken for.

I stopped to contemplate the very interesting spectacle. A villager informed me that the colony came regularly every year, and, as near as could be judged, the same birds; that for ten years the birds had been petted by the inhabitants, and protected by all, old and young. He said that the swallows had all disappeared in a body, about a week previous to my visit, adding, “You don’t know what a lovely spectacle it is to witness the evolutions of these birds on a summer evening, when they are teaching their young ones to fly. They swarm around the building like bees, and their music is most delightful to hear.”

I could readily imagine the beauty of the scene, from the great number of nests, though I mean to see the colony at their devotions this year. “Yea, the sparrow hath found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.”

It would be interesting to know where these birds go as winter approaches. It is very easy, and perhaps very true, to say that they “go south.” But to what part of the south? Do they keep in a body there, as here? Do they have nests, and rear their young, there, as with us? There is a fine field for inquiry, which it is hoped some of our boys will go into by and by. For the present, if any of them are passing through Unity, let them remember the church which has its largest congregation on the outside.