Our tree swallows are back, and this exciting yearly event is underway in our front yard! We were alerted to the their appearance after hearing their cheerful twittery song and noticing their bat-like acrobatics as they raced for flying insects.
They seem to have arrived back all at once looking for their old nests. We now have up eight plastic gourds, which they seem to like very much. The openings are just right to prevent starlings from entering, and they hang from shepherd’s crooks planted firmly in the ground.
Attracting Tree Swallows
Tree swallows are an especially easy bird to attract to your yard. Even with just one gourd house, you will have the enjoyment of following their beautiful life cycle, not to mention a decrease in the population of insects near your patio or porch.
The swallows don’t seem to be afraid of us at all!
They must know they are much faster than us humans. This morning, I sat on a large nearby boulder to get these last shots. It was overcast, cold, and very windy, but they came and went, did aerial stunts, and chased round and round.
Some of this is courtship behavior, and some is territorial aggression towards a potential house thief!
This is the time before actual nest building when they stake out boundaries, so there is a lot of posturing.
Although the females are present, they are hard to distinguish from the males; it is said the females have a slight more greenish cast to the blue.
The males go in and out of the nests and sit atop the pole to show ownership. I believe the greenish cast (even on this overcast day) indicates this fearless feathered friend is a male!
Tree Swallows are Mosquito & Insect Gluttons
Those that can’t find a ‘nest cavity’ lose out and will likely not mate this year, so putting up gourds is a help to these attractive, cheery birds. They may also find old woodpecker cavities in dead trees, but if occupied, they get chased away.
They can eat their own weight in insects every day, so it is a very busy time. (source)
- Each adult Tree Swallow (TRES) will consume about 2,000 insects per day during an average 45 day nesting period
- The parents also catch and feed their brood (of 4-7 nestlings) about 6,000 insects per day during an average 20 days spent inside the nest box.
- This adds up to an estimated 300,000 insects per TRES nesting family.
- Since 90% of their hunting takes place below 39 feet, TRES can make a real dent in insect populations that pester humans.
That’s 180,000 insects for the nesting pair (2,000/day/adult x 45 days) +120,000 for their nestlings (6,000 insects per brood x 20 days)!
We have a wetlands, so that is such a help!
Tree swallows also drink and bathe in flight. They dip down and hit the water over and over. From a distance, it looks like a stone skipping across the water’s surface. A flock of acrobatic swallows skimming the water at sunset is quite a sight to behold.
The female is the main architect of the nest, working from a few days and two weeks. She will collects grass, but may include pine needles, moss, rootlets, and we have even seen horse’s mane and yarn. The female shapes the nesting material into a cup and lines it with many feathers. We have seen both the male and the female gathering feathers side by side.
Weeks from now, once the weather is warm, the eggs are laid, and the parents are off hunting for flying insects, you can get right up to the door of the gourd and peer inside to see the eggs.
But, sticking your nose into a nest with young may get you noticed. The intimidating, swooping attack is usually enough for us to vacate the area on the run. Hopefully, once the eggs hatch, I can get some good shots to share!
These are the only shots I’ve ever gotten with 2 protective parents dashing right at my head! Note the different nesting styles (different years and parents).
You can find tree swallow and purple martin gourds here.
Take a moment with your sweetheart and children to learn a little bit on these fabulous and friendly birds. They are a delight to have in your yard.
For much more information on the helpful and beautiful tree swallows, go here.
“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” ~Matthew 6:26