Fri Mar 2023

Barn Swallows

Over the course of two days, a miraculous event transpired outside my window. A flock — or maybe “swarm” is a better word — of Barn Swallows came to feed. They swooped and dived, banked and turned, and amazingly flew non-stop, hour after hour, in a remarkable display of aerial virtuosity and endurance. They were snatching tiny insects out of the air, bugs invisible to a human observer onshore. Their technique might be called aerial refueling, the bugs being a good source of protein.

The swallows are attracted to open fields and open water, where they can exploit their agility in the air to forage for flying insects. They were present here on the southern side of Smith Point, but I saw them off the eastern tip as well, so I presume they were also on the northern side (which a neighbor now confirms), up to and including the arc of wetlands in the northwestern corner of the pond.

These are diminutive birds, about 6¾ inches long, with a 15-inch wingspan. Their small size and constant, darting motion frustrated my attempts to get a close-up photo on the wing. The swallow in the photo was flying just offshore, its motion frozen by a 1/4000th second shutter speed, and its tiny image blown up digitally.

Every so often, one of these little dynamos would fly directly toward my window, only to turn away at the last moment. With my glasses on, I could catch a glimpse of the glossy blue-black upper side, the rusty chin, the white-to-orange underside, and the delicate white pattern on the tail. An exquisite bird, sleek, delicate, chiseled, it is one of nature’s jewels.