Barn Swallows build a mud-based nest up under the eaves or on the walls of houses and barns. I have been watching a pair that has a nest right outside my office door which I use often to water my patio plants and feed the patio pond fishes. These birds are quite tolerant of human activity, even though we are quite close to their nest. I suppose they knew that when they chose the spot! What that means is I get the chance to watch them raise their brood until that day when they chicks fly off. Then, even there after for a few days the chicks return to sleep in the nest at night.
During their first days of flight, these soon-to-be aerial acrobats just don’t have the aptitude to snatch tiny insects on the wing. That means their parents need to continue doing the hard work to feed them for several days as the chicks develop their skills.
To do that, the parents somehow communicate to their chicks to line up and wait while they hunt for insects which they bring back to the waiting babes. Often the chicks of more than one brood will assemble together. But, from what I’ve come to observe, the parents only feed their own chicks, and they know which ones those are – even if the chicks from different broods are a bit mixed up as they perch in waiting.
When there’s a chick sitting alone, things seem quite simple.
When there are two chicks, the parent birds sometimes feed two or more during their rendezvous, but often only has enough to feed one chick. That’s when my human brain begins to assign emotions like “disappointment” to my photos, as the chicks put so much effort into their begging to be fed.
After tracking a parent as it circles around for the feeding and putting so much energy into begging, poor “Little Dude” on the left ends up without a snack for the second time.
You have to feel for the little dude.
When another chick moves over to take the left most position in line, Little Dude now sits in the center, as the hope of a morsel of food comes flying in.
Once again, Little Dude goes without.
Little Dude is determined to get his due. He tracks his parent and even turns to receive her before his siblings. But, just as he is finally feeling aligned and primed to be fed, he is left wanting, again!
A minute later, the chicks began to fly off, one by one, to a new location. I think that decision is communicated by the parent birds, but that’s impossible to know. I just hope that Little Dude was able to find the best spot in line to fill his belly.