Hard to swallow

I so wish I could talk to the birds. Wish I could talk to the swallows that come and nest in the beams that criss-cross a garage to the side of our house. The swallows, have been coming here for years but, and this is why I’d love to be able to converse with them, our house has changed considerably over the years. First and foremost – there’s a lot more footfall now, thanks to an extension to our family, as in four children, and also, and this is a major problem, we’ve installed one of these automatic lights that comes on when someone walks by at night, not least one of those four aforementioned children. Or cats on the prowl. Or dogs. Or myself meandering in after a night in the local.

I so wish I could talk to the birds. Wish I could talk to the swallows that come and nest in the beams that criss-cross a garage to the side of our house. The swallows, have been coming here for years but, and this is why I’d love to be able to converse with them, our house has changed considerably over the years. First and foremost – there’s a lot more footfall now, thanks to an extension to our family, as in four children, and also, and this is a major problem, we’ve installed one of these automatic lights that comes on when someone walks by at night, not least one of those four aforementioned children. Or cats on the prowl. Or dogs. Or myself meandering in after a night in the local.

All of which cannot be helpful if you’re sitting on a brood of chicks, doing your damndest to propagate the species. It cannot be helpful if every so often a light comes on (thanks to the prowling cat or meandering me) and the swallow thinks the dawn is breaking, thinks it’s time to rise and shine and go flitting through the air in pursuit of bluebottles, greenbottles and horseflies which she’ll feed to her chicks (two in our case) And she’ll feed them, wait for this, up to four hundred times a day! With a little, a lot actually, help from her mate. They stay together the swallows, which is nice to know.

Anyway, all I want to say to the swallow (we’ve only the one this year) is that our house is not a great place to nest; it might have been okay in your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents time, but times have changed, our house has changed, and this is not an ideal place to rear a family. Swallow, you’d be much better off up in the eaves of St. Patrick’s church where no animal or human can get at you, where all is calm at night, and where all is calm even by day (we don’t worship quite as much as we used to) Maybe the swallows that nest there are more religious than the ones that nest in our house (which wouldn’t be hard). Indeed if it’s true that there is great comfort to be had in going to church, how much comfort is there in living in the eaves of one! Clever swallows those religious ones.

Meanwhile a terrible thing happened to our swallow family last week. The mother, or perhaps the father, got its head stuck in a piece of string which it had initially used in the building of the little mud nest and strangled itself. It wasn‘t pretty. Furthermore I wasn’t willing to cut the poor bird down lest the surviving parent might react to my interference and abandon the two squeaking chicks left in the nest. It’s weird watching that swallow zip in and out by her dead partner to feed her brood. But feed them she did and two days ago I watched, with joy, the two chicks leave the nest and take to the air for the first time with their parent by their side. It was like watching a mother see her infant child take its first steps. My heart soared as I watched those two little chicks soar about in the air, mam (or dad) flitting about by their side as their dead parent lay hanging from the nest. But, just as we deal with death, the birds, I have no doubt, deal with death in their own way also.

One swallow may not a summer make but one dead swallow almost undid my summer until those two tiny chicks took to the air and soared gleefully and joyfully about – my heart soaring with them. The nest is empty now and any day now the 6000 mile journey to South Africa will begin, my two swallow chicks and their parent in their midst. Will they return to that nest next summer? Watch this space.