Guest post by resident birder, Lydia
Every year the tree swallows put on flying shows before they start nesting. Every year we have a lot of fun watching them. A little while ago we saw our first swallows of this year. Five or six flew over the field together. Then we had a few rainy days and didn't see them much. Today it's finally sunny again and the five swallows are back! They have been flying all over the yard, gracefully circling and looping. Then chattering, fighting, inspecting nest boxes, and swooping at the bluebirds.
We have four birdhouses up and the tree swallows investigated them all. Last year a pair nested in one of our houses, and also the year before that. The swallows seem to still prefer the nest box they used last summer. It is right next to the garden so the birds often perch on the garden fence posts and on the board above the door. Since there are five tree swallows who all like the same box they do have a lot of fights! They stay together, but they almost never stop scuffling with each other. I was outside watching the swallows for a while and they kept flying around the yard at top speed and coming back to the one bird house. Then whenever one landed on a perch, another swallow would at once come and swoop down and chase it off. Pairs of them fought in mid air, too.
When swallows fight they make short, sharp twittering noises. However, when they 'dive bomb' each other on the posts, they make their usual calls. Their call is very pretty and sounds liquid, like running water. But they call so fast and so loudly when they're angry it just sounds like chattering. With five tree swallows all chirping at the top of their voices it gets very loud! In this picture the flying swallow is about to land on the post and knock the other one off. The perched swallow is about to fall off and is flapping wildly trying to keep balanced. You can see how they yell at each other - the first tree swallow's mouth is wide open!
Sometimes if a swallow's mate comes they will still fight a little. Usually though, the first will make room and share its perch with its mate. Then they sit next to each other and observe the nest box.
The tree swallow in the next picture has just taken off and is flying right towards me and the camera. Tree swallows aren't scared by people, so when you get too close to their nest boxes they swoop right at you. They will go so close that they are only a few inches away from your face! As they fly they make angry chirps. Last year the pair that nested was used to me being around because the year before I had also tried to get close to their nest. Some of these swallows, however, were not used to me at all. One of them kept swooping at me so I finally moved over by the swing set to avoid them so I could take pictures.
Here are two swallows at the bird house pole.
It's far too hard to take pictures of swallows flying around, they go so fast. I got some good pictures of the birds in the air by focusing the camera on the bird house or on a perched bird. When the swallow took off or another one came I would snap a picture. Of course then I got a lot of pictures of the empty perch!
This tree swallow is just leaving the bird house. It seems to be floating in mid-air. The screws dangling from the bird house are weights at the end of pieces of fishing line, which is supposed to scare away house sparrows. (The trick is not working)
Just taking off:
Now the swallows are doing a pretty good job keeping the sparrows away from their favorite box. I certainly hope they decide to use it this year!
A pair of tree swallows snuggles together:
The return of the tree swallows every spring is one of my favorite air shows!