Our year-round resident birds have already fledged one brood and started second families in new nests: cardinals, doves, brown thrashers, chickadees, robins, bluebirds, Carolina wrens, titmice.
Now finally, migratants have begun fledging their young.
Most migrants arrive in late April or early May and must recuperate from the long-distance trip, find mates, and seek out suitable home sites. Thus, for them, there's rarely time for more than a single brood--one chance to lay eggs, incubate and raise the babes, and fledge them to safety. Often as early as late July, adults and young begin their migratory treks back to their winter quarters.
This week, one such migrant pair fledged their drab little babes.
Tree Swallows typically migrate to Central America, but they may go no farther that the Gulf Coast. So they return early, getting a head start on later migrants. This year's first tree swallows showed up in late March.
Named for their affinity for nesting in tree cavities, one pair of local tree swallows chooses instead to nest in a bluebird box we've situated well out in the open in the neighbor's hayfield. This year, the box nearly overflowed with six babes. What a houseful of mouths to feed! The two adults have swept over the hayfield like little aerial vacuum cleaners, bunching up 15-20 tiny insects into a BB-sized ball, a so-called bolus, for a single delivery to the nest.
How we love these acrobatic aerialists, iridescent dark blue on their backs, tuxedo-like snow white on their fronts, the female more drab than the male. While they're amazing to watch, darting on the wing, their bug consumption ranks even more amazing. Two adults feeding young for 15-20 days will consume about 300,000 insects. Since they snag insects only on the wing and since they fly low--under 39 feet--they consume the bugs most annoying to humans. This year, given our mosquitoes, I wish we had several more boxes of these bug-eaters!
But my husband, chief bluebird-box supervisor, may tell another story. In order to keep our precious bluebirds safe, protected from ants and wasps, he "runs the trail" weekly, checking his 12 boxes, monitoring and cleaning out old nests. Bluebirds seem to take the checks in stride, perhaps burbling a note or two about the intrusion but bearing no ill will.
Not so with tree swallows. Highly territorial, they take the whole affair personally. Over time, hubby has been buzzed and dive-bombed by little swallows that look surprisingly large when diving toward one's eyes. Although none have actually made contact with his bare head, he's become really good at ducking--and wearing hats.
Adults and fledglings will hang around the area until early fall. Then they'll join hundreds of their fellows, roosting together, usually near marshes. The hundreds will join thousands and ultimately lift off for parts south.
Meanwhile, maybe we should turn honest and call the bluebird box for what it really is: our tree-swallow box.