Kids Helping Their Parents?

The sun finally peered out after many days of gloom and rain, so I set out to take a few shots of the front yard nest box.  There was a cold wind from the north and I hoped I would be able to endure long enough to get a few good photos.  We originally put the box up to attract a second pair of Bluebirds, since their territory is quite large, and our house creates an added visual barrier between the backyard, where the primary pair is nesting, and the front area.  However, a pair of Tree Swallows has moved in and, as of yesterday (4/25/20) Robert saw eggs in the nest.  I like Tree Swallows, they are native cavity nesters, so I’m cool with them using the box, of course.

Male and female Tree Swallow sit atop the nest box where they have built a nest containing 4 eggs.
One or both birds take the position atop the box quite frequently.
Often, the female will enter the nest while her mate remains on top.
It’s hard not feeling as if they are very fond of each other.
On occasion I am lucky and the sun will reach the bird in her hole and provide a bit more detail of their incredible iridescent feathers.

The pair is very active and I see one or both of them nearly every time I look out the window, so I expected to catch them.  But, I wasn’t prepared for what I was able to film.  It was exciting and very interesting to have witnessed.  I believe that I watched the parents engage and train their young from last year to help raise this future brood.  While there are only eggs, there was no need to feed the mother or chicks.  That’s why I consider it a “training exercise.”  I think I was observing practice runs.

The pair sitting atop the box.

I have watched Bluebirds and Tree Swallows have aerial battles over nest sites.  I have watched both Tree Swallows and Bluebirds run off House Sparrows, as well.  House Sparrows are not a native species, and we do not encourage them in any way (we toss their nests out of the boxes repeatedly as a form of “birth control.”)  So, I am familiar with battles over turf.   It usually happens when an outsider enters the space of the pair (or individual) that has assumed “ownership” of the nest box. And, while “outsiders” arrived, I did not see any signs of aggression. I did hear a significant amount of vocalizations from all four birds. The four birds spent significant time in the air, swooping about with each other before the parent pair landed on the box.

A third Tree Swallow (that I suspect may be a juvenile from last year’s brood) flies in from the upper left. The main pair was not alarmed, and had been flying in a small flock of the four birds just minutes earlier.
The primary pair did not seem alarmed as this third bird flies near their box.

The Tree Swallows were not attempting to ward off the two others that were landing and flying close to the nest box.  Rather, they seemed to be encouraging them. 

Although the gaping open mouth of the bird in flight suggests an assault, it’s only a perception. The main pair was not alarmed by the birds presence.
I felt quite fortunate to have not only witnessed the aerial acrobatics of this small group of swallows, but more so to get it on film.
While it appears that the bird on the upper left is chasing the other, I didn’t perceive it that way when I was watching “in person.” The center bird was simply taking flight.
The Tree Swallows are quite vocal, especially when they are in flight with each other – which is brilliant to watch.

At one point, the female entered the nest and stuck her head out while the two youngsters (gonna just assume that is who they were) appeared to fly by and slow sufficiently to “feed” the mother bird.  I may be completely wrong, but that is how it appeared to me.

During this “practice session” as I appeared to me, the male of the pair often remained on the top of the box.
FINALLY! I was able to capture what I had been seeing – the secondary birds seemed to suspend long enough to “feed” the mother in the hole.
This looks like a “chase off” behavior, but the four birds never appeared aggressive to each other, but rather kin. The open mouth is probably just vocalization.
It’s clear in this photo that the primary birds on the box were not concerned with the other birds’ presence.

I’m happy that the sun came out and I had the time and thought to film the front yard Tree Swallow pair. I feel that I was privy to a unique situation…or if it isn’t all that unique, at least it was special to me.

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