Posted by: Dave Neads | June 28, 2008

Flockmind

I don’t know if anyone rates these things but if they do, then swallows must be among the top ten when it comes to flying.  Their fluid motions as they catch mosquitoes and other insects on the fly are a marvelous aerial ballet to watch.  Yet, beautiful as their flight patterns are, swallows are remarkable in other ways as well.

We have one pair of  barn swallows nesting on our house, on the south eave.  This location now has  a platform secured to the underside of the exposed rafters making a shelf for the nest, providing security of purchase and stopping the droppings from reaching the greenhouse roof.

This tidy arrangement did not happen overnight.  For the first several years the swallows tried to establish 8 to 10 nests all over the house.  I kept knocking them down, tied ribbons on the eaves, put up tin foil,  hung strings, even tin pie plates.  The house looked like the circus had come to town.  All to no avail.  The swallows would build and I would knock the nests down.  The pairs whose homes I had destroyed  would then sit on the spot and grumble away for days.  I felt so cruel.

Finally, I knocked down all nests except the one on the south eave and then I put a platform under it..  This routine continued for three years: knock down all nests except the one on the south eave and put a platform under it.   Then, three years ago,  an amazing thing happened.  One pair built on the on the south eave and no other attempts were made.

The flock is as large as ever,  but only one pair  now builds on the house.  They don’t usually select the platform from last year, but go to the rafter next to it, but they always stay on the same eave.  I just wait until the nest is built, then move the platform under it and we are set for another season.

Even if this is the pair that built  there last year , and remembered, what of the new pairs and the rest of the flock?  How have they decided that there is just one spot available on the house, no others are allowed?

Flock memory?  Flock mind?   Whatever the so called  “explanation”,  I take pure and simple pleasure in watching them swoop and dive in front of our breakfast window all the while bemused by the way they  have accommodated my wishes and their housing needs.


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