Feed me…still

When I went to turn off the lawn sprinkler late yesterday afternoon, I discovered a flock of about 20 Barn Swallows foraging over the lawn in the front yard, chattering away in their Swallow language.  They seemed oblivious to my presence and continued to course back and forth about 10-20 feet off the ground.  Perhaps the sprinkler had scared up some bugs.

A couple of juvenile Swallows perched on the power lines and insisted on being fed by any passing adult.  There was some acrobatic flying going on as adults hover-stopped in front of a juvenile to drop a morsel of food in its wide gape, but a lot of it was too fast for my slow trigger finger.

One juvenile Barn Swallow perched for several minutes on

Juvenile Swallows haven’t developed the long outer tail feathers characteristic of the adults, but they do show the white tail spots, and rust-colored throat and dark blue-gray heads.

The food exchanges were too quick to see what the adult was bringing -- probably small flies.

The food exchanges were too quick to see what the adult was bringing — probably small flies.

Waiting expectantly...

Waiting expectantly…watching all the adults flying back and forth overhead.

Another exchange and a quick lift-off before I could press the shutter.  It looks like a piece of an insect sticking out of the juvenile's bill.

Another exchange and a quick lift-off before I could press the shutter. It looks like a piece of an insect sticking out of the juvenile’s bill.

Wing fluttering and begging calls are supposed to attract the adults' attention.

Wing fluttering and begging calls are supposed to attract the adults’ attention.

Another juvenile swallow coming in for a landing -- must have seen that the bird on the left was getting fed.

Another juvenile swallow coming in for a landing — must have seen that the bird on the left was getting fed. Juvenile on the left squawks at the newcomer.

I'm not sure if this is a threatening posture or just the recent arrival's attempt to beg from any other swallow it sees.

Newcomer squawks back.  I’m not sure if this is a threatening posture or just the recent arrival’s attempt to beg from any other swallow it sees.

The long period of dependency on parents for food is about to come to an end, as swallows, along with many other bird species, are flocking up and fattening up in preparation for migration to their winter home.

This amazing little bird is one of the most widespread bird species in the world, breeding in all continents of the northern hemisphere from sea level up to 9,000 feet and wintering in all continents of the southern hemisphere primarily in savanna or grassland habitats.  Individuals tend to return to the same wintering spots, forming huge roosting flocks in a specific locale.  One wintering site in Nigeria had more than a million swallows roosting there.  Large roosting groups might be good protection from predation, as their numbers would far exceed the appetites of the local avian predators (e.g., falcons).

10 thoughts on “Feed me…still

  1. I think your swallow photos are wonderful, and the information fascinating. I’m going to go flood my yard now!

  2. I love seeing these kinds of interactions among birds and your photographs really show them well. As I think back, I wonder if some of the interactions among barn swallows that I observed earlier this year might have been related to begging for food (I initially attributed the behavior to swallows just being “angry birds,”)

    • In Virginia, they could probably raise two clutches of chicks, so you might have seen this begging behavior going on all summer. See comment from my cousin who lives south of you.

  3. Barn swallows are my favorite. Had about 100 in one of our barns this year. Totally devastate the flying insect population. Usually arrive around April 15 and leave around August 15.

    • What fun to see so many of them. I read somewhere they need to eat as much as their own body weight per day in bugs, while flying about 600 miles — hard to believe.

  4. Beautiful series of pictures Sue. I love watching swallows zoom low over the fields on their endless hunt for insects. Mine also arrive around April 15th, but they stay until mid to end September. They’ll be getting ready to head back to South Africa for the winter in 2-3 weeks time, ushering in the cold weather, to return in mid-April next year. I, for one, shall miss ’em when they’re gone.

    • Wow, that’s a long migratory path, all the way to South Africa. I thought it was interesting to see that this species is so widely distributed globally.

  5. Pingback: Barn Swallow hang-out | Back Yard Biology

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