Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Bluebirds and Tree Swallows: We've Got Eggs!

Text and photos © 2013, 2015 Adele Wilson, author of Bonding with the Barn Swallows

Mama Barn Swallow on nest, night of May 12, 2012
It’s always exciting to find eggs in a bird nest, especially a nest that one is monitoring.

My first experience of finding eggs in such a nest was on May 13th, 2012. There was a year-old Barn Swallow nest on my porch, and a new pair of Barn Swallows had claimed it.  Ever since May 3rd, the female had been spending every night on the nest. Yet, each time I had checked the nest, I had found no eggs.

But May 13th, 2012, was to be a very special day.  (Please be patient; I'll get to the Bluebirds and Tree Swallows in a minute!)

Mid May, with its blooming flowers and warmer temperatures, is one of the most beautiful times of the year in Central Appalachia, and Sunday, May 13th, was certainly no exception. I had slept restfully the night before, charmed by the fact that the male [barn] swallow had stayed all night on my door ledge on May 11th, even while I was opening the storm door and stepping directly below him. It was time to check again for eggs in the nest. Mirror in hand, I carried the stepping stool onto the porch, climbed up to view the nest, held up the mirror, and beheld a most pleasant surprise. There were two eggs in the nest!

How synchronistic that it was Mother’s Day and I had found the first evidence that the female swallow was to be a mother! To me this signified a new beginning, a promise of new life, and something I had earnestly been hoping for. I decided from that point onward, to call her Mama Swallow and the male, Papa Swallow.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that we put up two nest boxes this spring (2015) – not for Barn Swallows, but for Bluebirds. We mounted the first box on April 24th and were delighted that only one week later – on May 1st – a pair of birds arrived and claimed the box!

However, the birds who arrived on May 1st were Tree Swallows, not Bluebirds.  Nevertheless, we were utterly thrilled to have birds investigating the box only seven days after we had mounted it!

Tree Swallows are beautiful birds, and they diet exclusively on flying insects.  We were glad to have attracted these natural pest-controllers into our back yard.

As shown in the photo on the left, the female Tree Swallow began flying into the box's entrance hole with straw that very day.  Her job was to build the nest while the male's job was to guard it.

One never knows what to expect when it comes to nesting birds. To our surprise, just nine days later – on May 10th – a pair of BLUEBIRDS arrived and drove the Tree Swallows from the box. Although the female Tree Swallow had built a nice nest inside the box, she had not laid any eggs.

The photo on the right shows the pair of Bluebirds on top of the box.  The male is brightly colored, while the female's colors are more subtle.

You can see that the female has a strand of straw in her bill in preparation for taking it into the box.  As in the Tree Swallow species, the female Bluebird's job is to build the nest while the male stands guard.  However, this female already had a base on which to start building her nest.  She just added more straw to the Tree Swallows' nest and built the sides up higher.

In an effort to do justice to the Tree Swallows, we mounted a second nest box (Box #2) on May 19th, and, only four days later, a new pair of Tree Swallows arrived and claimed it! 

Just as with the original pair of Tree Swallows in Box #1, this new female Tree Swallow proceeded to build a nest inside the box while the male guarded it.

The photo to the left shows the new female Tree Swallow peeking out of Box #2.

This time, the male chose to guard the box from the nearby fence, as shown in the photo below.  When sunlight hits the back of a male Tree Swallow, it brings out his lovely, iridescent blue feathers.

In the meantime, the female Bluebird had started laying eggs in the first nest box (Box #1).  On May 20th, I discovered two eggs inside, and now there are five!

Soon the new female Tree Swallow, not to be outdone, began laying her own eggs in Box #2.  On May 29th, there were two eggs inside her nest, and, on last count, there were four.

I do not yet know how many more eggs the Tree Swallow will lay.  The average number in a clutch of this species is said to be four to seven, but they can lay as many as eight.

Stay tuned to find out how many eggs the Tree Swallow lays and when the Bluebird eggs will hatch.  You can follow this blog by entering your email address at the top right.

If you have enjoyed these photos, you will want to check out the 117 photos in my book, Bonding with the Barn Swallows.  Many of them show closeups of the baby Barn Swallows that were hatched on my porch during 2011 and 2012.  There are also photos of the parent swallows guarding the nest and feeding their young.  As an extra bonus, the book includes photos of five different juvenile Barn Swallows, just ten days after fledging.  You will be amazed at their varied markings.  The book describes how one special male Barn Swallow communicated to me by his body language on the utility wire and how, only two days later, I discovered what he was trying to tell me.  The book is available at Amazon at:   http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1494481464/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1494481464&linkCode=as2&tag=barnswalfrie-20&linkId=5WME3VAHNSX3EXHH


  1. Nine eggs and counting! Awesome! Great work and success with the new nest boxes! :)

    1. Thanks, Jim! This afternoon there were 5 eggs in the Tree Swallow nest that I could see. But there was also a feather that could have been hiding 1 or 2 more eggs. I didn't know how to look under the feather without moving it and disturbing the nest; I am such a novice at this!

  2. I've been following this nest drama closely but haven't made any comment, sorry about that!

    Both birds are so beautiful! None of them live on this side of the ocean but I wonder if it is the same kind of barn swallow we have? I checked right now and it is but different sub species it seems.

    I've never thought of putting nests on poles like that, perhaps I should do that this autumn so they stanbd ready for the migrating birds next spring. I guess the most likely bird to move in would be the Eurasian Pied Flycatcher.

    It will be exiting to see how many there are when all eggs has hatched!

    Have a great day!

    1. Hi Christer,

      Thanks so much for your comment! Tree Swallows are in the swallow family, but they are not Barn Swallows. I think our Tree Swallows here in the US look much like the European House Martins (which are also in the swallow family), but I don't know if you have House Martins in Sweden. However House Martins and Tree Swallows, although similar in appearance, build different types of nests. House Martins build nests of mud, while Tree Swallows nest in pre-existing cavities.

      Yes, it was recommended to me that autumn is not too early to put nest boxes up on poles. I was told that the birds will notice them and remember their locations the following spring when they are searching for nesting sites.

      Also, putting nest boxes on poles helps guard against predators. Our main problem around here is roaming cats. I do have an indoor cat as a pet, but in this neighborhood we have feral cats who roam around and hunt for birds.

      I think that our Eastern Bluebirds are much like your European Robins although their colors are different. I believe they are about the same size, though, and they are friendly toward humans the way your Robins are. When the Northeastern US (the part we call "New England") was first settled by the English in the 1600's, the settlers noticed our Eastern Bluebirds and called them "Blue Robins" because they reminded them of the Robins back home.

      Thanks so very much for your interest in my blog!

      Best regards,