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Brooklyn Bird Watch: August 4

Barn Swallow. Scientific Name: Hirundo rustica

August 4, 2023 By Joseph Palmer
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Today, Brooklyn Bird Watch features an interesting Heather Wolf photo of a truly fascinating bird, the Barn Swallow, as seen in Brooklyn Bridge Park. (Heather Wolf’s photo is of a juvenile Barn Swallow.)

The Barn Swallow is about the size of a sparrow and its head, back, and tail plumage are cobalt blue. Its forehead and throat are rust-colored with light brown underparts. Its long, forked tail can be longer than its wingspan.

We learn from the website “BirdNote” that the Barn Swallow is a pest control machine. The bird’s affinity for building its cup-shaped mud nest in barns, garages, and on protected ledges near where people live, can be a beneficial thing.  Each Barn Swallow can, and usually does, eat about 60 insects per hour, or about 850 per day per bird — that’s a lot of unwanted bugs taken out of circulation.

The Barn Swallow primarily catches its meals (insects) on the wing, flying fast just above the surface of a lake or a pond. And this little bird also likes to drink and bathe in flight, as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes it: “dipping down to take a mouthful of water or skim their belly on the surface for a quick rinse.”

Sometimes photos can be deceiving in that it can take a few moments to realize how small a Barn Swallow nest really is while staring at three or four fledglings sitting on the edge, curiously staring back at the camera.  Their nests are generally only about three inches wide and two inches deep, lined with grass and feathers.  About 44% of Barn Swallows will clean out their nests after the breeding season and reuse it the next year. I have read that some nests are diligently maintained and reused for up to 10-15 years. Both Barn Swallow parents feed their young. Sometimes one or two additional birds, the pair’s offspring from previous broods, might help with the nest and sometimes feed the nestlings.

Courtship involves aerial chases and, when perched on something, a couple will sit close together, touch bills, and preen each other’s feathers. (Sound familiar?)

Another interesting piece of information about this bird is that it is directly connected to the founding of the first Audubon Society. The killing of egrets is usually credited for inspiring the U.S. conservation movement, but it was the hat-making trade’s impact on the Barn Swallow that caused a man named George Bird Grinnell to write an editorial in “Forest & Stream” in 1886, denouncing the wasting of bird life for the sake of a hat feather, and that editorial led to the founding of the first Audubon Society.

Barn Swallow Sightings this year in Brooklyn Bridge Park: 1,723

Special Event

Heather Wolf will be a guest speaker at a special program with a slideshow, on the birds of Brooklyn to be held on Wednesday, Aug. 30th at Estuary Bistro, overlooking the marina at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Readers may be notified of their opportunity to attend by clicking here.

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