Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Littlest Swallow

It's very nerve-racking when children begin to exercise their independence.

We have our first family of Swallows nesting in our barn.

This was taken a couple of weeks ago:

I love how the parents decorated with equine tail hairs.

Just this past Monday evening when I went into the barn to feed Misty, I discovered the babies had left the nest - all five of them. Three were on the floor and two were precariously perched on a board about 10 feet up the wall.

I shut the stall doors so Misty couldn't come in and step on anyone. She would have to spend the night outside, but that's ok; she's an outdoorsy kind of girl.

One of the babies on the floor flew upward and tried to land on the top of the inner stall wall, but it couldn't find a perch and quickly disappeared as it fell behind the wall, down to the bottom and became trapped between the inner stall wall and the outside wall of the barn.


I couldn't bear to think of the poor little guy stuck back there. He wouldn't be able to get out unless he could fly straight up, like a helicopter, for about 8 feet. So I called my husband down to the barn and we went over the options.

1. Let life (or death in this case) takes its course.
2. Rescue the little guy....but how?

We opted for option 2. We knew the barn builder did a good job when he constructed our barn. We were about to find out just how good a job he really did. We wish our home was built as solidly as this barn.

First, Mr. OnceUpon removed the trim so he could get to the boards.

Then he began prying the edge of the bottom board loose a little bit, working the nail heads out enough to get the hammer claw around them and pull them all the way out. This turned out to be quite difficult, as the nails were about 6 inches long and strongly embedded.

With a lot of struggle and grunting, Mr. OnceUpon pulled the last nail out, but alas, the board wouldn't budge. That's when we noticed that the two bottom boards had additional tacks in the center of each board. Those two boards weren't going to come out at all. So Mr. OnceUpon repeated the process of prying and removing the nails from the 3rd board up. Again, a difficult and time consuming task...and not how he had planned to spend his evening.

The third board was finally loose, but there was no way to dislodge it completely. It was wedged tightly in place by the boards on the corner wall. And from what we were discovering about our barn, the boards are probably nailed in on that end too.

We scratched our heads, wondering what to do next. We couldn't pull the board out far enough to reach the baby swallow. Should we get destructive and cut the board? Oh, why not. We've already been at this for a couple of hours and we're so close.

Mr. OnceUpon asked me if I had a block of wood he could use to hold the board out far enough so he could cut it with a saw.

Hmm? A block of wood? I looked all around the barn. No blocks of wood, but I do have this collection of cow bones I've found on our property.

Mr. OnceUpon fired up his power saw and started cutting. And here's why those two bottom boards were too secure to pry loose. They are tacked to this extra support piece. The baby was to the right of this support board.

And here's the reason for all this trouble (click the picture to get a good look at that face):

I tried to reach down to scoop the baby up in a dust mask, but my arms weren't long enough. Fortunately, Mr OnceUpon has longer arms than me and the baby swallow was finally freed. Hurray!

It was getting late, but the lights were on in the barn and the little trouble maker started flying around, looking for a place to perch. He managed to make his way up to the board where two of his siblings were perched. The three of them huddled together and spent the night on this board.

During all this drama, one of the other two had managed to fly back up to the nest, leaving the youngest sibling on the floor, looking very pitiful. This baby, the littlest swallow, must have been the last egg to hatch and was not ready to leave the nest this day. It reminded me of something my dad used to say when I was a kid, "If all your friends jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, would you jump too?" In the case of the littlest swallow, the answer is yes. I placed some hay around him so he'd have something like a nest to surround him.

It was 11pm by this time. All the birds, including the parents, were in the barn and seemingly safe for the moment. Mr. OnceUpon quickly glued the board back together and secured it in place with long screws and we called it a night.

What a nice man I married. He never got angry or cranky once; not even when he bonked his head on the stall door while prying those long nails out of the wall.

About 5:30 the next morning, Mr. OnceUpon put the trim back in place while Misty supervised. She's still banned from the barn so she enjoyed her breakfast outside.

The babies all survived the night in their various sleeping spots. Before I left for work I was surprised to find the parents and the four older kids all sitting on the pasture fence just outside the barn.

But what of the littlest swallow?
Thank goodness I emptied the automatic waterers the previous day!

He looked pretty safe in there and while I was snapping this picture one of the parents flew into the barn to check on him.

When I came home from work that evening, I found the four older siblings all back in the nest and the littlest swallow was on the ground in Misty's paddock. He flew a little bit and managed to perch on the pasture fence where he was joined by his parents. They fed him dinner and then went to the barn and called for him. He eventually made it back into Misty's stall, but he couldn't gain more than about 4 feet in altitude and was stuck on the floor of the stall again while his siblings cuddled together in the nest above. I put a 2-foot tall wire shelf in the stall and he flew up onto it and settled down for the night. He was still perched on the shelf this morning. I left for work wondering how they would fare today and hoping the littlest swallow would find his wings soon.

I'm happy to report this evening that all the kids, including the littlest swallow, have found their way into the nest for the night.


  1. I'm glad it all worked out for the littlest swallow. He seemed to determined to get himself in a lot o trouble. Your husband was such a nice guy doing all that work for him.

    By the way, what is it with parents, do they all read the same handbook? My mother used to say "if everyone jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you do it too"! Ha! I've even been accused of saying the same things my mother did to my kids.

  2. Awwww how sweet!!! And I would have torn down the walls too!

  3. You and Mr. Once Upon have hearts of gold! What a wonderful rescue story. I am so glad it all worked out well. That photo of the the baby down in the hidden spot with its mouth open is priceless!

  4. What an absolutely wonderful story. I relate completely to the simple need to help other creatures when we can. You and Mr. are marvels!

  5. Hooray for saving little Swallow, and Hooray for Mr. Once Upon for going the extra mile. Glad the story had a happy ending.

  6. Well of course you had to rescue it! Thanks for sharing this lovely story.

  7. I am SO GLAD that you chose the rescue.

  8. Ah, yes. The continuing soap operas of barn swallows. We now have at least ten nesting pairs in our barn and garage. It is a highlight of spring when they return, and a sorrowful day in fall when they leave. Just love them! They are so personable and friendly. I could not have let that poor little one die behind those boards either.

  9. my gosh...

    with your compassion and your husband's calm patience, I can only hope that on a hot, muggy, stormy night when my truck and trailer pulling my cranky horses breaks down at 4:30 am spewing tire shreds every where, knee deep in a muddy water ditch, that it would be in front of your house...

    unless you only do birds; you dont rescue humans???


  10. I'm glad you all agree it was worthwile to rescue the little guy. Having these sparrow in the barn has been very stressful. They tend to get into trouble whenever I'm the barn.

    FeralWoman...ha! We'd throw ya a line and pull ya out of the muddy water!

    GreyHorse, another parental saying from my youth..."Stop your cryin' or I'll really give you something to cry about." Did you get that one too?

  11. What a wonderful rescue story!
    And the littlest swalllow was so cute, I hope he makes it to become a strong and healthy adult.
    Life is tough for small animals, I am glad you helped out.

  12. LOVE the story. what big drama such a little bird can cause! You always want to root for the underdog, and here, looks like he made it!
    - The Equestrian Vagabond