Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wildlife Wednesday

Dear Reader,

Thank you for coming by our little Merry Hearts Cottage today! It's always a treat to have you stop by, and hope that you will be blessed by your visit.

I want to share with you, each Wednesday, a few of the articles that my botanist/ecologist father left as his legacy to his children. My sister entrusted them in my care to be copied and given back to her, so I thought I'd "kill two birds with one stone" and type them up to share with you! I hope you will enjoy them.

The first article is entitled "The Friendly Tree Swallow", and was written with the intent of being published in a newspaper or nature magazine.


The Friendly Tree Swallow

by Lou Jonas

The tree swallow seems to be the most willing of all birds to cooperate with a young nature-lover. All the boy or girl has to do is build a house five inches square inside, with a 1 1/2 inch hole six inches from the bottom (sic), and place it on a pole or in an open-branched tree in early spring, so it will be ready when the swallows return, about the time the first mosquitoes show up. House sparrows will try to claim it, usually, so Dr. Cliff Davis advises putting it rather close to the ground. The sparrows tend to avoid the house then, while the swallows will still be happy to accept it. The house should be on a steel pipe or post, if very low, so a hungry cat can't remove the residents by jumping to the top of the house and waiting for them to emerge.

Audrey's drawing

Dr. Davis once put out a string of six houses on fence posts, to provided homes for bluebirds, in the hope of helping them to return to their former numbers. The bluebirds didn't find them, but four of the six were taken by tree swallow families.

AnnaMarie's drawing

The male is usually the first to appear in the spring, and he flutters and twitters for some time near the new house, apparently being a little wary- not eager to enter a hole where a red squirrel or weasel may be waiting to welcome him. He flies to the top of the house, sings a little, flies away, returns to land at the hole and cling for a few seconds, perhaps listening for menacing scratches inside. Then he flies away, but soon returns. Perhaps this time he will stick his head in the hole, and then quickly flee. Eventually he dares to believe that here is a fine new home with no strings attached, and he enters, to merge soon, and perhaps fly to a phone wire to sing. If we dared to be romantic, we would say that the swallow is thanking us for his house, and he acts so friendly toward us that it is apparent that his gratitude is long-lasting.

After he brings his mate to the new home, they spend a great many hours, and make many trips, carrying grass for the next, and white feathers, if available, for the nest lining. Soon, three to eight white eggs are laid, and the male assists in brooding them, as he does in bringing the many thousands of insects which the young will consume before they leave the next. Occasionally, the pair both relax on a nearby phone or powerline, to sit side by side preening busily, and using their feet to scratch the spots which can't be reached by their beaks.

Their human neighbors can work with electric drill or other tools only four or five feet away, without disturbing them. The sharp concussion of a hammer blow may make them jump, and perhaps fly away, but they soon return.

Though the song is so quiet one must listen closely to hear it, the attentiveness is rewarded by a pleasantly liquid tune. The actions suggest that they are singing more because they enjoy it, than to declare a territorial boundary.

Food is no problem in most parts of Montana; there are great enough numbers of mosquitoes and other insects to keep an infinite number of swallow families alive. However, many of us bird-lovers were worried when the heavy snowstorms covered most of Montana in May of 1965. We wondered how the swallows would make it through the three or four days of cold weather without their usual food. We were relieved and jubilant to see our old friends about their business as in normal years, the day after the snow had melted. They had evidently "holed up" and subsisted on stored body fat.

The steel-blue back and white belly of the male, along with the general clean-cut build of its body and wings, make the tree swallow one of our most handsome birds (The female's back is more brown, but this difference may be hard to detect unless the pair is sitting side by side.) The square-cut tail is another mark which makes the bird easy to identify. The tree swallow is called a martin by some folks, but the purple martin is much larger, its uniform blue-black color both above and below make it easy to distinguish.

We consider the tree swallow a valuable friend, and are always a little lonely each year, when the young have grown up and entire family seem to grow more distant and cool toward us. It's reassuring to know that next April we can look forward to seeing the first tree swallow of the year, and to renewing our mutually beneficial association.


Thank you for sharing a bit of my father's legacy with me,




  1. Dear Mama,
    I Like That You Are Doing "Wildlife Wednseday"!!!:)
    I Like The Article,It Is Very Nice!
    It Was Fun Drawing The Tree Swallow,
    It Was Very Easy To Draw,Too!!
    I Love You And I Like You!!!
    I Love You:)

  2. Dear Mama,
    I Messed Up On The P.S.!!!:)
    I Love You And I Like You!!!!

  3. Dear Marqueta,
    Thank you so much for sharing your father's work! I enjoyed reading it so much! The girl's drawings are excellent.
    Love, Paula


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