Every summer the Violet-green Swallows nest here in the western U.S., and I am treated to many weeks of their close presence as they vie for a nest box, then build a nest and produce a family.
They arrive every February from their winter grounds of Mexico and Central America, signalling summer is around the corner. Usually they come for a few days, then we have a cold snap and they leave, then it warms up; and this pattern continues until one day we start to see them gathering nesting materials. As I live in a forest full of pine trees, pine needles are the building material of choice. I find it comical to watch both genders figure out ways to enter the one inch nest box hole with a four inch missile.
I love watching swallows fly more than any bird on this planet. Their acrobatics are astounding. The insect diet contributes to their dexterity in flight, for they are constantly chasing and catching bugs “on the wing.” They eat mosquitoes and flies, wasps, moths, and winged ants to name a few. The swallows remain our handy and organic insect control.
Tachycineta thalassina are found only in the American West, and only in the summer months. But there are 83 species of swallows and martins occupying the globe, and they live on all continents except Antarctica.
The violet-green swallow lays 4-6 eggs in their neat nests, and spend many weeks raising their young. The fledglings are nearly adult size when they begin flying, and once they hit the skies the only difference they display from their parents is more wing beats and less soaring, and that’s only for a week or two.
When the swallows are done breeding, usually in July, they return to Mexico in large flocks, and their cheerful incessant chee-chee chirping ceases to exist. Fortunately, they will be back in February on or about the very same day they arrived here last year, and the whole beautiful cycle begins again.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander