Seventeen years ago, many of the buildings in the hamlet where we live were ruins, abandoned houses and unused barns. It was a haven for the swallows who returned year after year to build their nests in the place where their ancestors had built their nests, as it was also for several owls who floated out of glassless windows silently into the night to control the local rodent population, and called to each other in the dark.
The annual arrival of the first swallows was a moment all the residents looked forward to. “Les hirondelles sont arrivées! Il y en a cette année!” The birds came in large numbers, swooping over the stream and pond to dip for water, and skimming insects from the summer skies to feed their gape-mouthed babies hanging over the nests. As the days shortened and the temperatures began to fall, more birds joined them from the north, assembling for their migration. They crowded the telephone lines, like notes on a music sheet. We could feel their excitement as they squeezed together, sometimes flying around as if limbering up for the task ahead. And then one morning they’d be gone.
Over the years the abandoned houses have been restored and the barns converted. There is nowhere left now for the owls, and when the swallows return they still try, led by their instincts, to access those places that were once their summer homes. We’ve put stickers on the windows and hung string curtains over the doors to stop them coming into the house and injuring themselves. Watching them hovering around trying to find a way to the beams is so sad. And each year fewer and fewer swallows come. And we hardly ever see an owl.
“Ah, les hirondelles ne viennent plus,” the neighbours lament. This year there have hardly been any.
But – a couple of weeks ago I went into our small cottage, once a holiday home but now a dumping ground for things we have no use for. The door is always open. We were going to clear it out, and take the junk to the tip. But as I went through the open door a missile shot past, parting my hair, closely followed by another. On the floor beneath one of the beams was a pile of earth, droppings and fragments of dried grass. On one of the beams, the beginning of a nest. 🙂
The birds need all their agility to navigate through the low, narrow door to their nest. They have to fly low and turn 90° almost immediately, missing a large fridge just inside the door containing the overflow from our kitchen. We need to access it fairly frequently, but try to do so as quietly as possible, ducking before going through the door to avoid being knocked flat by the new residents, who seem unperturbed by our presence. Today, from a safe distance, and with the aid of a mirror, TOH was able to spot 3 eggs in the nest.
The floor is a mess; the junk is acquiring decorative splatters, and the clearing out exercise is on hold until further notice.
I am SO happy that at least one pair of swallows has found somewhere to call home.
But what if they return next year, as they surely will? What if the house is eventually sold, and the new owners don’t want swallows living inside the cottage? Any ideas, anyone? Once this little cottage becomes unavailable, they will have run out of places to nest.