Monday, March 22, 2010

Violet-Green Swallows

There are many varieties of swallows. On the west coast of Oregon, U.S.A., we primarily have Barn Swallows and Violet-green Swallows. Since Barn Swallows make mud nests, we prefer to encourage the Violet-green Swallows. These lovely birds are the best way to keep mosquitoes and other flying insects under control. We put up bird houses for the Violet-green Swallows.

If you do this too, don’t allow perches on your bird houses. Swallows don’t need them, and Starlings or Jays can use a perch to reach in and steal newly hatched babies to feed to their own young. Sad… Let them eat something else!

Our swallows are very beneficial birds. They only eat insects, so they aren’t going to harm fruit trees or the garden. In fact, they help get rid of harmful insects that DO harm fruit and vegetables.

Swallows on our west coast migrate and typically return to our area after the middle of March. Coincidentally, returning just when mosquito season starts. No doubt by arrangement of a Higher Power, thank you.

California’s San Juan Capistrano Mission always expects the return of their swallows on March 19 every year. They might miss by a day or two, but they always return.

English Sparrows that were imported to the U.S. have become very prolific and compete with native birds. However, they are not as serious a problem as Starlings, who were also imported, and DO eat fruit and damage crops. Although pretty, these two species of birds have taken over much of the habitat of our native species. Sad again.

Prevent English Sparrows from using your bird houses. Do this by adjusting the size of the opening. The hole into the box needs to be big enough for a swallow, but too small for sparrows. An entry with a diameter of 1-3/8 inches works perfectly. For metric readers, this is 35mm.

We live on several acres and have 7 bird houses scattered around. The one shown in the photograph above is outside our back porch window. We loved watching the parents come and go last year. The bird sticking its head out of the box is a baby ready to fledge.

I found this VHS film on Amazon: The Swallows of Capistrano [VHS]. It has great footage of the birds return to the California Mission every year on March 19. Since that's my father's birthday, we always remember it.

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