Fly-BY Parents

A few days ago I stumbled upon a splendid sight. Several broods of newly fledged Barn Swallows were lined up on a fence as they waited for their parents to fly in and feed them on the wing. I wasn’t able to get very close without scaring the wee ones into a short flight. Eventually, they settled a bit farther down the fence. I was able to capture some poor quality images which I posted HERE.

Yesterday I was out scouting for three pairs of Eastern Bluebirds that have started nests in boxes we put out a bit ago. I did spot two of the Bluebird pairs near their boxes. They were hunting in the grass and flying to a fence wire, or tree branch to eat, but not close enough to film – at least not with my amateur status. I also scared up a young White-tailed deer fawn from thick vegetation when I got stuck in tall grass. When I put the golf cart into reverse to free myself, it emitted a buzzing alarm during back-up mode. That sound, and perhaps my grunting as I tried to turn the wheel against the grass, was enough to startled the little deer with the white spots upon its back.

I also saw a House Wren building a nest in one of the Purple Martin gourds that we hung out in single format to do exactly that – attract cavity nesters away from the Bluebird boxes. I enjoy successes like that. At Amazon, the gourds come in a pack of eight for forty-six bucks. That’s under six dollars for a nest box. I painted them to look a bit more natural and then used a hot glue gun to attach a pine cone pedal (left over from Christmas) and a piece of plastic coated wire (from an artificial flower) to act as a foot hold. I also added a couple handfuls of cedar shavings to the bottom. And, voila, House Wren chose it over the Bluebird box.

While I was photographing the little House Wren that has filled its gourd with dozens of twigs, an Eastern Meadowlark landed in the same tree. At first, all I saw was the brilliant yellow color. I was hoping it might be the female Orchard Oriole, so I began shooting. It wasn’t until the bird flew off that I realized it was a Meadowlark. With all our prairie land, I see dozens of Meadowlarks when I am out scouting. They nest on the ground and tend to appear ‘heavy’ in flight, so I was surprised to see it in the tree.

Then, I came upon the treasure that I thought I would never see, again. Four baby Barn Swallows were lined up on an old wooden beam about 100 feet from the barn. Had I not seen such a scenario a few day prior, I wouldn’t have paid it much attention. But, I recognized what I was observing. These new fledglings were waiting for their parents to arrive and feed them.

But, what I saw first was a lesson that one little bird learned by trial and error. Three of the chicks were perched securely on a wood rail which clearly was worn enough to provide ample grabbing surface. Chick four, we can call him Chucky, was perched precariously on a wire which had long ago lost its tension. It offered poor footing. He was also separated from the rest of the brood, and I thought he might belong to a different set of parents. These first photos show the plight of choosing the wrong surface on which to perch. Poor Chuck spends far too much energy trying to remain upright while his siblings appear relaxed and secure.

It only took a minute before my supposition was verified. The wee Barn Swallows were hanging out to be fed. First, the chicks looked skyward – all in the same direction. Then they began to flap their wings incessantly. Finally, craning their necks forward, they opened their mouths larger than one might consider possible. The middle chick flapped so hard he took a short flight down the beam. Hopeful to be fed, they awaited their parent’s arrival. And, she did fly in…and feed just one chick. It was Chuck. Perhaps his mama saw his difficulties and wanted him to get a little extra snack.

But, mama (or papa) didn’t forget the other fledglings. Her next target was the left most chick on the rail.

My position wasn’t optimal for filming, so I drove around the barn and approached from a different angle where there wouldn’t be as much dark green vegetation behind the action. I thought that would not only help my focus on the small birds but also make for better images. I’m not sure I was right, but I’m happy to share this incredible experience in photographs here.

Parent Barn Swallow flies in and feeds chick #3.
It seemed that the chick on the right was getting “extras” but this time the parent bird must have had more than one serving available.

In the photo above, the middle chick has moved towards the right (east) end of the beam. I wonder if this is not just a dinner meal, but also a study in the prevailing winds and how they affect flight. There was a good breeze coming out of the west, so the parent birds most often approached from the east – flying into the wind. A smart chick might soon realize the limits of his parent’s flight.

Before the adult birds had a chance to return, a large turkey vulture flew overhead. It was a good hundred feet above, and it had no intention to harm these little babies. But their instincts told them “SCRAM!” and they all flew off.

But, now from my vast (ha ha) experience observing this situation, I was fairly certain that the chicks would soon land on the same spot, again. And, they did.

The next photo shows one of the more rare times when the parent flew in from the west. It occurred after the babies had flown off and then returned. I don’t know whether they landed in the same order – left to right. But, I suspect that the parents can tell their babies apart.

This was one of the infrequent times that a parent bird landed when feeding her chicks.

These are the chick on the right (East) end of the rail. There’s a second adult bird flying in, perhaps the other parents.

What happened next is difficult to interpret from my human perspective. It appeared that the mother bird landed to address her chicks in some fashion. She vocalized at three of the four chicks as if she was scolding them. I know that’s a human’s perspective, but it was quite interesting to contemplate what her intentions were. Then, after a few moments the mother moved up to the chicks (which were obviously begging for food) and she fed one of them.

Second bird from left, landing on the rail, is a parent bird.

The weather was threatening to storm and the sky was dark, so I shot one more fly-by-feeding session and headed for home.

When I came upon the Barn Swallow chicks over on the east fence by the corn field a few days earlier, my husband said that I’d probably never see that again. Apparently, he had been scoping the property with binoculars for such a situation since I filmed it. And yet, even though I wasn’t on the mission to find it, I was graced by the lovely experience, again. Thank you, Universe for sharing such a gift with me. And, that is why I am posting and sharing with you.

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