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Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

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By Max Gotz,

Whistler Naturalists

Thanks to a mutually beneficial relationship with humans, the Barn Swallow is the most abundant and widespread swallow in the world. Steeped in myth and legend, the Barn Swallow is said to have consoled Christ on the cross, and in many areas superstitious farmers believe that nesting Barn Swallows bring good luck to their farm. Farms certainly bring good luck to Barn Swallows.

Once cliff nesters, they now build their mud-daubed nests almost exclusively on human structures, usually under the eaves of buildings or stuck to the side or on top of ledges and beams. Nowadays, finding a Barn Swallow nest in a natural setting is rare and interesting to scientists and therefore worthy of publication. In Europe, Barn Swallows have nested almost exclusively on artificial structures for over 2000 years, and the conversion to human structures in North America predates European arrival.

These high energy aerial feeders eat huge amounts of flies (mainly crane flies, horse flies, and robber flies) making them an obvious benefit to humans and agriculture. Their close association with people has made the Barn Swallow one of the most thoroughly studied birds on the planet. Their deeply forked tail is an excellent identification clue and is the main feature for sexual selection in this species. A long tail and symmetrical outer tail streamers are directly correlated to reproductive success, survival, parental effort, ability to withstand parasites, immunocompetence, and other measures of individual fitness. For Barn Swallows, size matters.

In Whistler, breeding Barn Swallows (along with Violet-green Swallows) are common, especially in and around the village. Whistler birds begin to arrive from Central and South America in late April and are rarely seen here after August.

These little dynamos seem to chatter constantly and have no qualms about dive bombing any intruder close to the nest including humans. Some misguided property owners in Whistler still illegally destroy active nests claiming property damage, but the mud nest and splattered faeces are easily cleaned up after the young leave and rarely damage anything.

Upcoming Events :

April 19 — Slide Show with Chris Czajkowski . See details below.

May 5 — Monthly Bird Walk . Meet at the base of Lorimer Road at 7 a.m. ( please note earlier time! ). Contact Michael Thompson (932-5010) for more information.

Sightings and Memberships: NatureSpeak is prepared by the Whistler Naturalists. To become a member or to report noteworthy sightings of mammals, birds, or other species, contact Lee Edwards (905-6448; e-mail: leighe11@hotmail.com).

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