Submitted by Candy Venning

I absolutely must tell you about something exciting that happened to me today!

Last week I had heard that the Tree Swallows were starting to be observed locally – back from their winter in Florida and Central America. We had a pair nesting in the backyard last year and they were comfortable enough with my zoom lens snooping, to raise a pair of chicks – we were able to watch the entire process from mating to nest building and hatchlings peeping their heads out and even first flights. Having these gorgeous little birds jet propelling themselves around the garden was a highlight of the summer. Certainly, a species we’d love to host again, especially given how many mosquitos they can eat per day.

Then yesterday I suddenly recalled I hadn’t finished cleaning out the two nest boxes I have in the garden (our neighbour had been doing construction work too close to one birdhouse so they abandoned that nest partway through but before the chicks came) – so out I go – remove the old nests – sweep em’ out – and as I’m reattaching one two wee Chickadees come chirping around to check inside the box I just hung one tree over.

Now, back to today – I’m using the Merlin app on my phone – and my species count is going up as it recognizes Cardinals, Crows, American Goldfinch, Song Sparrow, Starling, Chickadee – I send off my list of fairly common birds (but no less magnificent for this) to E-Bird.

I reluctantly turn around to go back inside, back to work on this beautiful day, when I hear a familiar and repetitive call, I look up and there they are, white chest and iridescent blue back and wings, Tree Swallows! They’re back and they’re here in the yard now, scoping out the real estate!

Natural cavities, where most Tree Swallows build their nests, have been disappearing for the past 200 years as people clear the land, manage woodlands, cut down older trees, and remove dead trees.

Knowing this we purchased 4 boxes from a local enthusiast, checking that he had built them according to the very specific requirements  – the size of the hole, no perch on the outside (cavity nesting birds don’t use a perch and it can provide a place for a predator to balance on and attack the vulnerable nestlings) facing the correct direction, minimum size of the inside, kerf cuts inside so the nestlings can get out as the entry hole is 7” above the ‘floor’…in fact it’s so specific I highly recommend checking out the details on this link – because there are details and we wouldn’t want our precious birds to go to all this trouble and then have the chicks die. Yup, nature is complicated!

Tree Swallows are highly social, forming large migratory and wintering flocks; and pairs often nest close together, (but not too close – see link for deets) particularly where nest boxes are numerous.

Super agile fliers, Tree Swallows tend to glide more than any other swallow species. They even bathe acrobatically by flying low over the water and skimming their bodies against the surface, then rising quickly while shaking off droplets.

If you can’t host these fantastic birds, no worries, go to sites where they are known to be observed (local bird groups online will share general locations) or turn on your Merlin app and enjoy the show – I know we will be!