Thursday, March 27, 2008

For the Birds

The barn swallows in Silk’s stall have some new neighbors. Chickadees have moved in next door with Siete. It’s almost that “baby bird” time of year again. For two years, barn swallows have built a nest in the protected rafters over Silk’s feeder. It’s an ideal spot since it’s like a trough so the little ones can’t fall out on the ground if they try to fly too soon. Last year, there were two hatchings using the same nest. Now, there’s a second nest over Silk’s front door.

The chickadees copied the barn swallows, and their nest is over the entrance to Siete’s stall. They are so sweet, with their beautiful white chests and lovely voices. They talk to me while I muck in there every day. The barn swallows aren’t so welcoming. When I go into Silk’s stall, they dive bomb me. I noticed when the babies were in the nest that they would peep like crazy if they heard me, but when it was just the horses in there it was completely quiet. I guess I’ll never be anything more than a smelly predator to them.

My farrier suggested that I hang cd’s from strings on the beams of the ceiling. The spinning and the shiny reflections will keep the barn swallows away. It’s a good tip, but I don’t know if I want to do it. I love them, even if they don’t love me so I’m hoping that they will just listen to the chickadees and mind their manners.

What is it with birds and horses? In the first barn where I boarded Silk, they also raised chickens. At night, some of the horses would actually let the chickens roost on their backs and fall asleep. It was so funny to see a horse with a chicken sitting on its butt. The next stable where Silk and Siete lived had barn owls in the rafters. It was a male and female, a married couple, who had been living there for over 15 years. When I groomed the horses in the cross-ties, owl feathers would float down on us. I still have some of them for good luck. There was one boarder who was really irritating. The barn owls used to drop gooey white bird “bombs” on her while she brushed her horse. Eventually, to all of our delight, they drove her away to another boarding facility.

Last summer, I found a baby barn swallow floundering in Siete’s stall. The little bird couldn’t fly well enough and got stuck in the shavings on the floor. I managed to steer Siete into the corral and keep her out so we could save the baby. My 93 -year old mother and my 12 year old daughter took over the rescue operation. Nana pulled out a pair of fancy white gloves from her drawer because she insisted that you need very soft hands to pick up a bird. She gently cradled the baby, and they found a broad flat branch on the big pine tree where the bird could easily sit without falling. A moment after they safely placed the little creature on the pine bough, its mother flew over to join her wayward child.

As I cover my head with my arms and duck while the barn swallows zoom down towards me, I remind them that I’m the one who chased away the cats and kept them safe while they were growing up. It reminds me of when my stepson was little and you told him not to do something. “I don’t listen to that,” he replied. I guess I’m just going to have to go next door and hang out with the chickadees.


billie said...

We have some barn swallows who come in to visit but they aren't nesting there so far as I can tell. There does seem to be something nesting in a crevice beneath the barn shelter in back, b/c Dickens will stand out there and stare at it for hours in the mornings.

We also found a number of tiny horsehair birds' nests in the fall, that must have been left over from spring/summer. They were absolutely stunning - woven with tail hair from each of our horses, so it was a blend of white (pony), black (Salina), deep sable/black (Keil Bay) and flaxen (Cody). I actually cried when I picked the first one up off the ground, it was so beautiful.

It was the size of a hummingbird's nest, and then we found several more.

I love the activity at the barn this time of year. Thanks for sharing yours!

Victoria Cummings said...

Billie- I love the horsehair birds nests too. I gave them to my daughter's teachers in grade school, but we still have some sitting on our bookcase. When I brush the horses now that they're shedding, I always leave piles of fur and mane/tail hair in the bushes for the birds.

Callie said...

I love having my barn swallows here. They eat mosquitos. Last year it was a bit annoying as they managed to take up roost in our garage as well and we had to keep our garage door open so they could get in and out to feed their young.

Rising Rainbow said...

I don't know what it is with birds and barns, maybe it's the easy places for nesting but they're not my thing. I much prefer them outside in the trees. Those baby birds are way too vulnerable to my cats in barn rafters. I don't mind the cats getting the rodents but I hate when they get the birds.

Mrs Mom said...

We were thrilled to see the Purple Martins swooping in over our lake- since they came back, the bug population has taken a large hit! Which is fantastic, as we no longer have to worry about the skeeters ganging up on the horses and dragging them off into the bushes.

Enjoy the Spring!

Heidi the Hick said...

We have a swallows nest in the barn near the water tap. It's amazing- it looks like little bits of mud woven together. They have that whole section of barn to swoop around in. I love them, although they do leave a nasty mess of black and white poop under the nest.

In summer the horses only come into the barn for grain and then they're right back out again, leaving the swallows to fly around in the whole barn.

Bird's nests! My mom has a beauitful collection of them in her china cabinet! Whenever my kids find one they bring it to her. I loved what Billie wrote about the horse hair woven into the nests. We can tell which nests are the oldest by the hairs. We used to have chestnut red nests, but the red horse is gone. Now we have black and white hairs from our Appys. Sometimes they find bits of baler twine and use that too.

And yes, every time I brush my shedding horses, I think about all that horse hair being used by somebody much my creative than I.

Grey Horse Matters said...

In our other barn we had a family of pigeons living there full time. "Homer" and the wife and kids were very entertaining. There always seems to be barn swallows, we've also had geese waddling through the barn. They make such a mess though. My favorite thing is to watch some of the birds sitting on the horses rumps, it amazes me that they allow this, wonder if they are part rhinoceros?