The coming of spring marked by the swooping of swallows

For some, the coming of spring is best marked by the blossoms on the trees and the bulbs thrusting up from the softening ground. For me, it's the return of the swallows.

The buff and teal birds arrive en masse, swooping and gliding over the river. Chirruping and calling to one another in the endless cycles of their mating rituals.

My first year of witnessing the swallows' annual migration ended with several making their nests in my chimney. It took me a while to realize the intermittent chattering coming from deep within the lathe and plaster walls of the 1940s cottage was the swallows. In the beginning of that season, they chattered away until they heard me make noise. Then all would be silence. Later, as they grew comfortable with the human clatter, they would scold me if I got too noisy.

Although loathe to disrupt their nesting place, I nevertheless had a cap put on the chimney late that fall after making sure all the birds had flown away for the season. A chimney sweep told me the early rains had washed away any evidence of the swallows' habitation. That was a tidy bit of serendipity.

The next spring, a friend helped me put up a nest box up under the eaves of my deck. Facing the river, the cheery, red, cedar bird house was adorned with hand-painted blue birds and budding branches — lest they not recognize I'd created a new home just for them.

Then I sat back, waited and hoped. The males court the females by carrying fluffy covert feathers high into the sky and then dropping them. The feather wafts on air currents in a spinning descent over the river. When it reaches about a foot or two above the blue green flow, the male swoops down and plucks the feather from a watery grave.

I never get tired of watching the aeronautic display that demonstrates the male's ability to provide tasty winged morsels to a nesting female.

One fine spring day I noticed a male had taken a perch on a curved wire finial on my back deck — just below the bird house. He was fending off all comers, scolding and swooping off across the lawn, chasing other males away from the area.

Eureka! The box was a success. The grand-looking male had enticed his bride to reside in the strange contraption. The pair raised several clutches of babies that year — and for many years to come.

Two years ago, a pair of house sparrows took over the swallow's nest box. Unsure how to prevent this unwelcome intrusion, I decided to let nature take its course — to a point. I let the sparrows know they were not my favorite renters by banging on the bottom of the high-hanging nest box with the handle of a broom. It had little effect. They simply hunkered down.

So, I gave up on my eviction efforts. And put up two more nest boxes in adjacent trees.

The swallows slipped into the smaller boxes and quickly began making little swallows.

This spring, I am happy to report, the male swallow is again sitting on his perch on my deck — and there's nary a sparrow in sight.

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