Born too late

Rosa has been acting strangely and I was concerned so this morning I set out my camera to watch her.

For new readers, Rosa and Fred are Barn Swallows. There are lots of swallows around the farm but these two occupied a nest just outside of my front door and I have been watching them all summer.

They raised their first brood very successfully and that was well documented on this blog. You can see them fledging in the “Destiny” post on the sidebar.

Barn Swallow Nestlings

Their second brood died. I don’t know why but Rosa started crying. There is a call that she makes that is unlike the normal happy chirrup. I first heard it when the first brood were fledging and she tried to encourage them out of the nest. It  is how a Barn Swallow calls for her young. At first it was a joyful sound as she encouraged her brood to flight but when she lost her second brood she called for them constantly.

A couple of days after she started crying I found two dead babies under the nest they had been thrown out. She kept crying and they built a new nest just opposite the old one after about a week it became obvious from the smell that there were still dead chicks in the old nest.

She cried for about two weeks and then she stopped. She lost the second brood a month ago. For the last two weeks she has been sitting on the nest. I could pretty much guess what she was up to but told myself no it wasn’t possible.

This morning I had to set the camera up and check. I wanted to see if the other birds were feeding her. It is worse than that.


So why is such a joyful and happy event as a new brood such bad news? Because it is too late for them. There is no time for them to build the strength that they will need for the flight to Africa.

If they had been fledged a month ago they would have struggled, the second brood always do but hatching now they don’t really stand much chance. They have to cross the Sahara Desert.

I think that Rosa and Fred will be all right. Swallows don’t put on much weight prior to migration, they feed on the way so the distraction of a new brood to feed won’t do them much harm and they are happy again. Anyway she was pretty determined about what she wanted and maybe the young ones will get lucky.

It is good to see them happy today and today is all that anyone can really ask for.

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23 thoughts on “Born too late”

    1. Thanks Inese. I don’t have any idea how she lost the second brood. They were only a few days old and they died in the nest. I don’t think it was a predator, the bodies were left there. There was no reason to think there was a shortage of food, the weather was fine. My guess is some illness.

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  1. I will keep absolutely everything crossed for this little family. Poor little mum crying for her lost babies. That made me cry. Please let us know when they leave for their epic trip.

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    1. Thanks Dorne. I will be keeping a close watch on them. Hopefully they won’t think about leaving for at least a month. The later the better. They could do with some decent weather.

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  2. One of the summers here the tree swallows started nesting again even after a successful first brood. They built a new nest (I clean out the old one from the nest box), but stopped short of laying eggs.

    Hopefully the young will make it.

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  3. What’s the latest you’ve seen swallows in the UK? I once saw a happy looking specimen skimming the fields east of Eastbourne the second week of December. I wonder if it survived the winter.

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  4. Let’s hope they survive to bring more young into the world next year. It seems like the odds stacked against them and I guess that’s why they can have two broods.

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  5. We had a similar story this summer. We found a hummingbird nest in the apple tree outside our dining room, with two babies in it. For days the mother sat on it dutifully, but then one morning, one baby was gone and the other one was dead in the nest. A day or two later, the nest was destroyed. We are hopeful that the missing one had grown enough to fly out on her own.
    The story is here http://lightexpectations.blogspot.com/2014/06/right-in-my-own-backyard.html
    and here http://lightexpectations.blogspot.com/2014/06/not-your-usual-thanks-giving-birds.html
    and the final chapter is here http://lightexpectations.blogspot.com/2014/06/and-then-there-were-none.html

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  6. I sometimes find myself worrying over the little fawns that sometimes show up tiny and spotted right at the end of summer or beginning of fall. These late broods may be one last ditch effort in the face of coming cold, and some of them may make it. I personally don’t see how…

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  7. Have they got mites? I seem to recall this can kill chicks, and that zoos leave out lavender for birds & penguins to use in their nests to deter them. Maybe next year you could put out some lavender stalks for their nest building and see if that helps.

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