Saturday, April 5, 2008

From Barns to Bridges

Traveling over the 13th Street bridge into Augusta or clicking along I-20, are you aware of a fork-tailed bird gracefully skimming over the new golf course in North Augusta or over the fields and meadows along I-20? Have you noticed that he darts under bridges, probably fluttering about and checking out last year's nest sites?

Twenty-five years or more ago the barn swallow was only an early spring transient through this area. It nested from the piedmont areas of Georgia and South Carolina and north to Canada and Alaska.

Before this country was settled, the barn swallow nested in caves and on rocky cliffs. The early settlers began to change the land to a rural environment with barns and sheds for cattle and for grain storage. This little metallic blue swallow changed the site of his pad quickly, preferring to plaster his nest on the beams and shelves of such buildings.

Barn swallows are people-loving birds like purple martins. They like to build around houses and dilapidated barns. Though barns are decreasing today, we can lure these swallows to build near us by supplying the needs for a nest site, if we live in the right habitat.

A two-by-four joist, rough, not planed, nailed to the outside of a building, flat, wide side against the wall and placed well up under the eaves with about five inches of clearance will bring them in.

The nest is made out of mud and straw and lined with fine hay and feathers, usually white. Five to six white, reddish-brown spotted eggs are laid and hatch in around fifteen days. Within three weeks, six more young swallows are added to the graceful, engaging flights of the chattering swallows.

These swallows have proved they are adept at change. From the time of the earliest colonists, these beautiful birds chose to build their nests in old weathered barns and sheds with open doors and windows where they could enter to safety from weather and predators.

Barns on farms are not needed today as in the past. They're being replaced by tight new buildings with no open doors or windows that swallows love. Horses are being replaced by automobiles and tractors, leaving the birds to find other nest sites when these older buildings are destroyed or replaced.

Being able to easily change its habits, now one of its chosen sites in under bridges and that is one circumstance that has brought it southward. Until around three decades ago, it was a spring and fall migrant in the Central Savannah River Area. As in the past though, it quickly adapted to man's extended highways and bridges and began to nesting space all along these river-crossing cement spans. Now it is a common breeder in our area.

The barn swallow's food consists entirely of insects caught on the wing as it skims low over ponds, fields and meadows.

Measuring 6 1/2 inches, this dark, metallic blue swallow with glistening reddish-buff breast and deeply forked tail has a light chestnut breast and dark chestnut face. The sexes are much alike, though the female is paler in color than the male.