Monday, July 6, 2009

Bank Swallows Exhibit the Value of Kinship

St. Louis Canyon Starved Rock State Park in Illinois
June 2009
While exploring in the St. Louis Canyon this June .... I came across a baby bank swallow just sitting in the sand among many rocks at the bottom of the canyon. After our initial impact of startling each other, it began to flop around the ground. Obviously it had recently left the nest and was just learning how to use it's wings. I froze in my hiking boots mesmerized for a few moments before taking a few robotic reaction snap shots with my camera. Then very carefully, almost tiptoeing backwards I retreated to give it the space it needed. As I backed away I noticed an adult, probably the mother, sitting on a rock staring at me. My movement caused her to take flight. Her action caused me to look up. I became instantly aware that a community of swallows were hovering above me. They were all twittering at me as they hovered. I had been so unexpectedly preoccupied by the baby that I didn't even notice all these adults paying such special attention to my every step. I was too close for comfort and needed to rectify that. A rock and bush nearby was just the camouflage I needed. It was far enough away to appease the adults and close enough for me to watch them. I had goose bumps watching so many adults rally together to care for the fledgling. This helpless fledgling had a lot to learn about this big new world, it was vulnerable but not alone by any means. It seems that bank swallows care for each others young as a village, protective when necessary and are nurturing until they are sure it can care for itself. Adults came to the baby two or four at a time while others hovered above forming a protective barrier as the parents fed it. I took several photographs of this bond of kinship they so beautifully demonstrated for me before leaving with that warm fuzzy feeling that starts in your toes and ends up being a smile on your face. To view more pictures from this shoot visit and check out this gallery.

Did You Know:
  • That the scientific name for Bank Swallow Riparia means "riverbank".
  • Another name for Bank Swallow is Sand Martin
  • Bank Swallows nest in colonies along rivers and lakes in vertical cliffs or sand banks.
  • Males use their small beaks and feet to dig burrows in the banks that are sometimes up to five feet long!
  • The female builds a flat platform type nest inside the burrow provided by the male by using sticks, dried grass, leaves, rootlets, and weeds before lining it with feathers.
  • Generally there are 4 - 6 eggs per clutch and one brood per year for a bank swallow pair.
  • The smallest swallow in North America is the Bank Swallow.
  • Bank Swallows eat flying insects. From dawn to dusk they fly around and catch insects like mosquitoes and even bees.
  • Both parents feed their young and will continue to feed them for several days after it leaves the nest.
  • Bank Swallows were abundant this June at St. Louis Canyon in Utica, Illinois.

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