Wednesday, 29 July 2015

A secret swallow nest

Next to the chicken pen I have a shed to keep all the chicken food dry. Well, a couple of years ago someone smashed the window from the inside. It was a bit like one of those Jonathan Creek mysteries.
Eventually the mystery was solved. A hen, attempting to accumulate a secret stash of eggs, had gone and got herself locked in overnight. Goodness knows quite how, but she had then smashed her way out.

I attempted to fix the window with a spare pane of glass, but on the very last nail the pane broke in two. Ever since then, that window has consisted of two overlapping broken sheets of glass, which has created a narrow gap along the top.

Why am I telling you about this?
Well not long ago I found a tiny broken eggshell on the floor of said shed. It was so delicate that when I picked it up it simply turned to powder in my big, clumsy hands. I looked up to see where the egg had come from and there, just above the shed door, was a swallow nest! We go in that shed twice a day to get chicken food, yet an enterprising swallow had managed to build a nest, lay eggs, incubate them and hatch them without us even noticing!
You'll see from the swallow facts at the bottom of this page that the female swallow must have been sitting, unnoticed, for over 2 weeks, let alone managing to construct a mud nest without me noticing.

I left the nest in peace.

The next time I looked at the nest, a few days later, I could just see the crown feathers of its young occupants. As I held up the phone to take a picture, they all opened their gapes. They did this three times.

14th July

19th July

Over the next couple of weeks I kept an eye on the nest. I didn't want to disturb it, but the swallows had built it just a couple of inches above head height over a door which we have to access every time we feed the chickens.
21st July

The swallowlets grew at an amazing rate. You could usually only see three faces, but I can assure you there were four squeezed into that tiny nest. They learned after that first time and always remained absolutely motionless and silent whenever I was around.

26th July
27th July

Then yesterday a very excited Sue returned from feeding the chickens. She had just witnessed a young swallow's first flight, describing how it perched on the broken pane of glass torn between escaping Sue and launching into the big wide world. Eventually it fluttered its wings and stepped into the air, before flying out over the soft fruit patch to explore Swallow Farm from the air.

This morning, here is what I found in the chicken shed.

29th July

The whole family had fledged. They left the guinea fowl feathers which lined their nest, but there was no sign of the swallow family. I looked over the veg patch, where swallow families dart and chatter at this time of year. There are several nests in the stables, and with two or three clutches a year that adds up to quite a lot of swallows by late summer. They congregate over the farm, sometimes attracting the unwanted attention of a hobby. As I stared up, I wondered which ones were the chicken shed family.

I'll leave you with a few facts, taken from


Both adults build a nest from mud and plant fibres against a beam or shelf in buildings or a ledge on cliffs. Existing nests are often refurbished, and there are instances where nests have been reused for nearly 50 years.
The eggs of the Swallow are about 20 mm by 14 mm in size, and are smooth, glossy, and white with reddish speckles. The duties of incubating the eggs are performed by the female. The newly-hatched young are fed by both adults, who catch insects on-the-wing and collect them in their throats before returning to the nest. Once fledged, the youngsters receive in-flight food from their parents.

Breeding Data
Breeding StartsNumber of ClutchesNumber of EggsIncubation (days)Fledge (days)

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