The Mystery of Swallow by Linda Hoffman

The following by Linda Hoffman was originally posted on her own blog, Welcome to Apples, Art, and Spirit!, and is reposted here with Linda’s permission.

Sky above the Medicine Wheel at Old Frog Pond Farm, Night Photo: Robert Hesse

The Mystery of Swallow

By Linda Hoffman

While in our individual quarantines we hear of mysteries revealed across the globe: In India, people can see the glow of the high Himalayas, fish are swimming again in the dank Venice canals, and above in the night sky, the stars in the milky way glow more brightly. Closer to home, I study tree swallows.

I’ve been watching an iridescent pair who have taken up residence outside my studio window. They perch on the top of a pine nesting box, one of a dozen my husband, Blase, built from scraps in his woodshop. I have yet to see either bird enter the box to lay eggs. Swallows, like most song birds, don’t lay all their clutch at once. The effort is too much; they lay only one egg a day. During this time of egg laying, the parents don’t immediately start incubating, but wait until the clutch is complete. Of course, I thought, how does she know when that last egg is laid? Maybe the way an artist knows when a painting is finished. It’s intuitive, there’s a satisfaction, a completeness. There’s a whisper, it’s done, it’s out of your hands. Release it, and trust.

This swallow pair must be waiting for the last of the eggs to be laid before they start nesting. They sit throughout the day, though occasionally one will fly, leaving the other alone. Rarely, do they both leave.

I have resisted peeking inside the box to see the eggs, I can only assume the eggs are accumulating. Once incubation begins, the parents will take turns sitting on the eggs for a week. Once born, the babies will remain in the nest for 18 to 23 days. Then, they must develop into expert flyers. For their migration from North America to South America will begin in the fall and will travel 200 miles a day at speeds from 17 to 22 miles per hour. However, storms, exhaustion, and starvation are challenges they will face, and it is estimated that only half will survive the journey.

To my surprise, both swallows suddenly take off. I watch for their return when a bluebird lands on their box, perky, though a little uncertain, making me think it is perhaps its first spring to find a partner and mate. The swallows immediately return, flustered at the sight of this interloper. What to do? Cautiously they fly toward the bluebird, wings shaking, approaching, but not getting too close. I think, why aren’t they dive bombing it? They need to protect their nest. The swallows dare to come a little closer, but the bluebird just twitches. The swallows fly out and back, and out and back, but never touch the bluebird. They don’t seem to be aggressive by nature, but they know they have to do something. Meanwhile, the bluebird doesn’t seem to realize it has landed on a box that belongs to others, or it is simply feigning innocence.

I watch more of their wing wagging, and think, this couple is completely ineffective, ridiculously so. Then, amidst more flutters of feathers, the bluebird departs. The swallow couple land on the top of the box, nudge close to each other, feathers touching, sharing the experience they have survived together. Whew! That was difficult! We best just sit here for a while.

Such mysteries of nature belong to us for we belong to nature; we are part of it. How could we be other? We’re made of the same molecules of water, air, and earth’s minerals. When I become demoralized by the problems on the planet, the greed I witness, the suffering brought on by this new pandemic, I remember that I am this earth, not separate from it. I am this morning’s melancholic rain making circles on the pond. I am the swallows anxious flutterings. Argentina may be 10,000 miles away, but the swallows will connect us. They connect me to you. Isn’t that amazing?


First Swallow, by Linda Hoffman

3 Responses to The Mystery of Swallow by Linda Hoffman

  1. David Daniel says:

    This is a fine, closely-observed piece of nature writing–which does what all good writing does: open a small window on a big world. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Chath says:

    Thank you. Working at a small family farm, I hear and see different birds everyday, but I haven’t seen the barn swallow for awhile. I wonder what happened to them. Birds don’t go to war to rule over the sky. They can fly and migrate anywhere, but we humans go to war over air space, sea space and land. We are part of nature, yet we are not. We have to be in control of everything, but we shouldn’t. Here, to birds, to swallow.

  3. Linda Hoffman says:

    Hi David and Chath,

    Thank you for your responses. I love hearing from people far and wide.

    As for the barn swallow, they are truly beautiful with their long double tail feathers. We have one that usually returns and builds a nest in our old chicken coop where we store farm tools. They perch their nest on the top of the garage door when it is open and horizontal to the ceiling. We put a sign so no one closes the door for nesting season. We’re waiting for their return!

    Take care,