Birds Vol 1 #3 – The Swallow

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow by Birds Illustrated

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

Vol 1. March, 1897 No. 3



“Come, summer visitant, attach
To my reedroof thy nest of clay,
And let my ear thy music catch,
Low twitting underneath the thatch,
At the gray dawn of day.”


URE harbingers of spring are the Swallows. They are very common birds, and frequent, as a rule, the cultivated lands in the neighborhood of water, showing a decided preference for the habitations of man. “How gracefully the swallows fly! See them coursing over the daisy-bespangled grass fields; now they skim just over the blades of grass, and then with a rapid stroke of their long wings mount into the air and come hovering above your head, displaying their rich white and chestnut plumage to perfection. Now they chase each other for very joyfulness, uttering their sharp twittering notes; then they hover with expanded wings like miniature Kestrels, or dart downwards with the velocity of the sparrowhawk; anon they flit rapidly over the neighboring pool, occasionally dipping themselves in its calm and placid waters, and leaving a long train of rings marking their varied course. How easily they turn, or glide over the surrounding hedges, never resting, never weary, and defying the eye to trace them in the infinite turnings and twistings of their rapid shooting flight. You frequently see them glide rapidly near the ground, and then with a sidelong motion mount aloft, to dart downwards like an animated meteor, their plumage glowing in the light with metallic splendor, and the row of white spots on the tail contrasting beautifully with the darker plumage.”

The Swallow is considered a life-paired species, and returns to its nesting site of the previous season, building a new nest close to the old one. His nest is found in barns and outhouses, upon the beams of wood which support the roof, or in any place which assures protection to the young birds. It is cup-shaped and artfully moulded of bits of mud. Grass and feathers are used for the lining. “The nest completed, five or six eggs are deposited. They are of a pure white color, with deep rich brown blotches and spots, notably at the larger end, round which they often form a zone or belt.” The sitting bird is fed by her mate.

The young Swallow is distinguished from the mature birds by the absence of the elongated tail feathers, which are a mark of maturity alone. His food is composed entirely of insects. Swallows are on the wing fully sixteen hours, and the greater part of the time making terrible havoc amongst the millions of insects which infest the air. It is said that when the Swallow is seen flying high in the heavens, it is a never failing indication of fine weather.

A pair of Swallows on arriving at their nesting place of the preceding Summer found their nest occupied by a Sparrow, who kept the poor birds at a distance by pecking at them with his strong beak whenever they attempted to dislodge him. Wearied and hopeless of regaining possession of their property, they at last hit upon a plan which effectually punished the intruder. One morning they appeared with a few more Swallows—their mouths filled with a supply of tempered clay—and, by their joint efforts in a short time actually plastered up the entrance to the hole, thus barring the Sparrow from the home which he had stolen from the Swallows.

Barn Swallow by Dan

Lee’s Addition:

While visiting Cade’s Cove in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee, found these Barn Swallows in an old house exhibit. We watched them, but they did not see alarmed by our being there. Having grown up in the city, this was my first experience being up close and personal with swallows.

Barn Swallow in Cades Cove by Dan

Barn Swallow in Cades Cove by Dan

Here are a couple of my attempts to capture the babies and then one of the parents that was sitting on the fireplace mantle keeping an eye on us. Guess they were making sure that we didn’t hurt their offspring.

Smoky-Cades Cove - Swallows in nest by Lee

Smoky-Cades Cove – Swallows in nest by Lee

And the adult (cropped):

Barn Swallow on Fireplace - Smoky-Cades Cove by Lee

Barn Swallow on Fireplace – Smoky-Cades Cove by Lee

Swallows are mentions several times in Scripture and therefore are one of the Birds of the Bible.

Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God. (Psalms 84:3 KJV)
As the bird by wandering, as the swallow by flying, so the curse causeless shall not come. (Proverbs 26:2 KJV)
Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter: I did mourn as a dove: mine eyes fail with looking upward: O LORD, I am oppressed; undertake for me. (Isaiah 38:14 KJV)

The Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) is the most widespread species of swallow in the world.] It is a distinctive passerine bird with blue upperparts, a long, deeply forked tail and curved, pointed wings. It is found in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. In Anglophone Europe it is just called the Swallow; in Northern Europe it is the only common species called a “swallow” rather than a “martin”.

There are six subspecies of Barn Swallow, which breed across the Northern Hemisphere. Four are strongly migratory, and their wintering grounds cover much of the Southern Hemisphere as far south as central Argentina, the Cape Province of South Africa, and northern Australia. Its huge range means that the Barn Swallow is not endangered, although there may be local population declines due to specific threats, such as the construction of an international airport near Durban.

The Barn Swallow is a bird of open country which normally uses man-made structures to breed and consequently has spread with human expansion. It builds a cup nest from mud pellets in barns or similar structures and feeds on insects caught in flight. This species lives in close association with humans, and its insect-eating habits mean that it is tolerated by man; this acceptance was reinforced in the past by superstitions regarding the bird and its nest. There are frequent cultural references to the Barn Swallow in literary and religious works due to both its living in close proximity to humans and its conspicuous annual migration. The Barn Swallow is the national bird of Estonia.

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) WikiC

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) ©WikiC

The adult male Barn Swallow of the nominate subspecies H. r. rustica is 17–19 cm (6.7–7.5 in) long including 2–7 cm (0.8–2.8 in) of elongated outer tail feathers. It has a wingspan of 32–34.5 cm (12.6–13.6 in) and weighs 16–22 g (0.56–0.78 oz). It has steel blue upperparts and a rufous forehead, chin and throat, which are separated from the off-white underparts by a broad dark blue breast band. The outer tail feathers are elongated, giving the distinctive deeply forked “swallow tail.” There is a line of white spots across the outer end of the upper tail.

The female is similar in appearance to the male, but the tail streamers are shorter, the blue of the upperparts and breast band is less glossy, and the underparts more pale. The juvenile is browner and has a paler rufous face and whiter underparts. It also lacks the long tail streamers of the adult.

The song of the Barn Swallow is a cheerful warble, often ending with su-seer with the second note higher than the first but falling in pitch. Calls include witt or witt-witt and a loud splee-plink when excited.[5] The alarm calls include a sharp siflitt for predators like cats and a flitt-flitt for birds of prey like the Hobby. This species is fairly quiet on the wintering grounds.

The distinctive combination of a red face and blue breast band render the adult Barn Swallow easy to distinguish from the African Hirundo species and from the Welcome Swallow (Hirundo neoxena) with which its range overlaps in Australasia. In Africa the short tail streamers of the juvenile Barn Swallow invite confusion with juvenile Red-chested Swallow (Hirundo lucida), but the latter has a narrower breast band and more white in the tail. (Wikipedia)


Birds Illustrated by Color Photograhy Vol 1 March 1897 No 3 - Cover

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

The above article is an article in the monthly serial for March 1897 “designed to promote Knowledge of Bird-Live.” These include Color Photography, as they call them, today they are drawings. There are at least three Volumes that have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

To see the whole series of – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited


(Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources)

Next Article – The Brown Thrush

Previous Article – Little Boy Blue – Bluebird

Wordless Book Video


Birds of the Bible – Swallow

Hirundinidae – Swallows, martins

Barn Swallow – Wikipedia

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Racycle Ad - Birds Illustrated - 1897

Racycle Ad – Birds Illustrated – 1897

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