From Wedged to Fledged

This gallery contains 7 photos. The Tree Swallows may have been the darlings of spring, but the Barn Swallows steal the show in summer. Three life stages were being enacted within 30 feet of each other on a very sunny and breezy July 3. This outbuilding made for a convenient nursery for at least five very young and hungry babies (the fifth is hidden; as with human children, getting all the heads to pop up at the same time is a challenging endeavour).

From Wedged to Fledged: Barn Swallows Wedged: a quintet of Barn Swallow nestlings, perhaps no more than a couple of weeks old.

Barn Swallows are DIY specialists; they build their cup-shaped nests from scratch by taking a mouthful of mud from a nearby source and mixing grass in it (they may also reuse old nests). Other (bigger) bird feathers are used to line the nest. This is a new nest for the year (built atop a hanging birdhouse), and a fairly deep one at that–almost like the parents knew that there were going to be quite a few wriggling bodies in it!

From Wedged to Fledged: Barn SwallowsThe clicking of my shutter makes four of five fuzzy heads pop up. Is that Mom with food?

A Barn Swallow mother brings back lunch (in the form of what looks like a tule bluet damselfly) for her family of five. She’s fast, stuffing her catch in the mouths of her growing brood in just a few seconds. In this photo–taken in burst mode–she stopped long enough for me to recognize not just her prey, but notice some of the identification marks on her legband as well (which shows that she was banded in Canada). The young silently beg her with their open mouths (the yellow in their mouths stimulates her to feed them).

From Wedged to Fledged: Barn Swallows

I hadn’t seen chicks of any bird species in a nest before. As young as they are, these precocious youngsters know to poop over the edge of the nest — not in it! (unlike Tree Swallow nestlings, who do-do in the nestbox, and for which mommy and daddy must act as diaper removal service). Barn Swallow parents (or their helpers–who may be older siblings/fledgings) bring back food for the babies — usually flies or damselflies, which they quickly put in one open mouth (no sharesies) before flying off for more insects.

From Wedged to Fledged: Barn SwallowsFledged: two juvenile Barn Swallows wait for lunch.

From Wedged to Fledged: Barn SwallowsJuvenile Barn Swallow on the left looks a bit constipated. The one on the right looks amused.

Fledglings may no longer be wedged in a small nest, and they obviously have their feathers now (if not quite the glossy iridescent blue and buffy/orange plumage of their parents), but these ones still don’t know how to catch meals for themselves. The adults still have to do this for them, and then they have to teach these skills to the young before all fly back to their Central/South American haunts for the winter. Juveniles also have shorter tails, and their bill colours are still predominantly yellow.

From Wedged to Fledged: Barn SwallowsA Barn Swallow decides to park itself on a nearby branch.

From Wedged to Fledged: Barn SwallowsLike their Tree Swallow cousins, Barn Swallows can also be intensely curious about us.

On more than one occasion have these beautiful little iridescent flyers felt the need to pop over and check out the photographer. 🙂 Barn Swallows are the most cosmopolitan of all swallow species, with a multi-continental range that spans the Americas, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa.

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34 thoughts on “From Wedged to Fledged

  1. Wonderful photos. Barn swallows built nests in our chimney and under the roof of our porch each summer. The ones in the chimney invariable fell down and we caught in the flue. I rescued them every year but it took me nearly five years to figure out what I could feed them that would allow them to live: ground pill bugs!

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  2. Did you see the nest at Reifel? The leftmost bird in your second photo is sooo cute! Those two tufts of fuzz on his head :-). I don’t know much about photography, but if the explanation is not too complicated, I am curious about how you got such rich colours in the shade? (I have a tiny Canon Powershot with 3x zoom and I usually resort to automatic mode… but I plan to get a better camera soon)

    Thanks for recommending the Bloedel Conservatory. I went last week. It was incredible! The plants, the birds, the bird song! I really enjoyed the experience and I did see the Bearded Reedling for 30 seconds near the Strangler Fig. I think I saw the female for 10 seconds as well but I only succeeded in photographing the male.

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    • oh yes, I saw a few Barn Swallow nests at Reifel. 🙂 the featherless nestlings have such adorably “bad hair days” … they remind me of The Three Stooges.

      in answer to your question:
      1/ I shoot in RAW (as opposed to JPG) with my full-frame camera (Canon 6D). RAW image files are bigger in size, but they retain all the unaltered information about the photo (so you can adjust exposure, colour, etc. without severely affecting image quality), whereas JPGs are enhanced in camera, and any post-processing that is done on them will be much more obvious (even so, dropping exposure time to 1/250 (and setting aperture to F8.0) pushed up the ISO to an atrocious 5000).

      I hope this makes sense, if not, check out my blog post “Shooting in [the] RAW”: https://whsimphotos.wordpress.com/2015/06/27/shooting-in-the-raw-you-bet/ or drop me another note!

      2/ I’m not sure if your point-and-shoot model has these features, but under low light conditions like this where flash is not possible (or permitted), I shoot in M (Manual) mode with Flash Compensation or Exposure Compensation dialed up. Automatic mode is the camera’s “best guess” (and, in my experience shooting moving wildlife, it is usually not the best! 🙂 )

      congratulations on photographing the Bearded Reedling male! He’s a very fast mover, while the female was the patient one for us last time. when we go to the Bloedel, it’s usually for (at least) 2-3 hours … because we don’t see all the birds on one or two rounds–some (like the Roul Roul Partridges) really like to hide!

      Cheers,
      Hui

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      • Thanks for your advice on shooting in RAW and using manual mode. I will look into it.

        I think my sister and I spent 3 hours at Bloedel. We went around slowly a few times. I was Google-ing to identify the fawn colored diamond firetail finch and came upon your Flickr site. Great photos :-)!

        Myriam

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      • thanks, Myriam. don’t forget to check out Q.E. Park itself, which is brimming with wild birds (owls and many small colourful summertime birds) too!

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  3. Hello Hui,
    I loved this series so much. I have a soft spot for barn swallows too!
    In fact, this year, a pair of them made a nest in the parking lot of our flat.
    My husband & I have been observing them everyday, and the chicks have hatched!
    I hope to make some photos too 😀

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  4. Really interesting to see each, individual stage as the plumage changes and the birds develop into adults. Must have been a good sense of achievement to see (and capture) them all. Good work… p.s what part of the world are you in?

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  5. Great captures Hui! Chicks are amazing aren’t they! Always looking so grumpy with their gape and so demanding. I have never seen swallow nestlings closely, just fledglings. There are very few swallows left in my area. I laughed at your comment about the poop! True some babies are really good at pooping outside their nest, what a cool instinct, and the parents brilliant at collecting poo-bags. I’m always impressed to see how nests are so incredibly neat inside, the parents do such an amazing job at keeping their young clean and healthy.

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