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This nest is hard to swallow

August 19, 2012
Kevin Williams - Grundy County Conservation Director , Reinbeck Courier

"I just came in from watching a family of four young barn swallows make their first flight from a nest above our front door." I couldn't believe it when I read those words written by an old friend of mine Steve Lekwa. Steve is the former (retired) Director of the Story County Conservation Board (I find myself referring to more and more of my conservation career friends as retired). Steve continues to write an outdoor column for the Ames Tribune.

But back to that beginning sentence, it was the opening line to his news column. You might be asking yourself why couldn't Kevin believe he was reading those words? Well, I'm glad you asked. It was because up until then, I had been convinced that my wife, BJ, was the only wife who has to tolerate a barn swallow nest at the front door. Now I can take the info back home that we aren't alone! Yet I know that won't be a very strong argument to change her mind about those swallows.

I enjoyed reading those words from Steve because for a few minutes I pictured his wife hurrying to the door to beat the inevitable swallow parents swooping past her head. Much like Tom Cruise "buzzing the tower" with his jet in the movie Top Gun. I just knew that Steve had to spend time advocating for the swallows with his wife like I have to do with BJ.

I went back to reading what Steve had written, "Although my wife doesn't appreciate the pile of white bird droppings that builds up on the front step right under the nest, to my mind, it's a small price to pay to have their beauty and cheerful chatter so close." It was incredible. He was listening to the same comments at home that I do. Someone else was sticking up for the swallows!

"Swallows are usually fairly tolerant of people being close, but the adult barn swallows sometimes become protective of the young and dive bombs cats, dogs, or people that get too close. They always pull out of their power dive within a foot or so of their target with a sharp chirp as they do so. Even those defensive dives are entertaining to watch I once read that a swallow diving at full speed can turn so sharp that they're pulling around 20 Gs, or 20 times the normal force of gravity on their wings. A highly trained aerobatic pilot in specially built aircraft can withstand only around eight Gs and the rest of us mortals start blacking out at only three. Even fighter and aerobatic aircraft are seldom stressed to handle much more that 10 Gs.

I found that G-force information very interesting. Much more so, I'm afraid than my wife probably would. But I think we all should appreciate swallows, in general, for the beneficial act of insect control. They feed almost entirely on insects caught on the wing. Iowa has six nesting species of swallows.

And guess what I think I have just identified another news column topic or two explaining about those other members of the swallow family. Stay tuned.

Swallows migrate early and will begin to gather in large flocks by mid - to late - summer. None too quickly to satisfy my wife, I'm sure. There are few birds more agile and beautiful on the wing than a barn swallow. I have a good wife that tolerates barn swallow nests on her porch and so does Steve. It also seems that neither of them appreciates swallows as much as their husbands. The only difference might be that he hears about it more often than I because he's retired and home more.



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