Welcome swallows are building a nest under the eaves of the cottage by the back door. They built a nest there in exactly the same place some years before and reared many broods in spite of the heavy traffic in and out of the cottage and the presence of cats. The Siamese cats felt positively persecuted by their twittering presence as they could never manage to get anywhere near them.
However, the nest was dislodged, luckily after the nesting season was over, by one of the frequent earthquakes we have around here and the site abandoned.
For the last few years they have been nesting in an old empty water reservoir by the barn and there have successfully reared many broods. The reservoir has a heavy wooden lid on it with a hole just big enough for them to fly in and out so it was probably considered a safer place to nest than the cottage.
Now they are back, or perhaps their offspring as the reservoir is already occupied. How welcome they are here, twittering and chattering away as they set about building the nest.
Having the opportunity of watching them closely, I can say with certainty that the nest is made of small pellets of mud picked up from around the water trough in from of the cottage. The nest is built up line by line, the mud mixed with short lengths of grass to give greater adherence to the structure and lined with hair, wool and feathers. In shape the nest resembles a shallow bowl and was completed in just a few days with both birds sharing the workload.
The welcome, or house swallow, was self introduced from Australia in the 1950s so it is categorised as a fully protected native bird. The spread of the swallow has been spectacular and they are now a very common bird throughout the country. As well as Australasia, the bird breeds in Southern Asia from India to Malaysia and the western Pacific.
They are small, graceful, dark blue and white birds, with variable amounts of rusty red on the head and breast. They have streamlined bodies with a short neck and long, pointed wings. The tail is a deeply forked “swallowtail”. Their flight is graceful and rapid as they hawk for insects on the wing. They are birds of open country, hunting over lakes, rivers and grassland and are often seen perching on power lines like so many clothes pegs.
Around here they are in competition with Piwakawaka, the fantail, which also enjoys the myriad of insects to be found around the river. They seem to live happily enough together, although expert thinking says that no two species can occupy the same ecological niche without the demise of one. By my observations, it seems the fantail is better able to cope with winter and the violent storms we often have around here by its ability to use safe roosting places.
The Australian bird, like its European counterpart, is migratory. Indeed it is thought that during its yearly migration to and from Tasmania, the birds were blown off course by storms and so ended up here. The welcome swallow shows no signs of being migratory here in New Zealand.
The European swallows are regarded as harbingers of spring and the ancient Greeks had festivals to welcome their arrival. The proverb, “one swallow does not a summer make”, is a pretty near literal translation of an ancient Greek proverb. In the ancient world, the birds were particularly associated with the household gods and their presence was looked upon as fortuitous. Conversely, any harm done to them could bode evil for the household.
Other common names: —
house swallow, pacific swallow
15 cm., 14 g., graceful, dark blue and white, variable amounts of rusty red on the head and breast. They have streamlined bodies with a short neck and long, pointed wings. The tail is a deeply forked “swallowtail”.
Where to find: —
Widespread but more common in the warmer northern North Island.
Illustration description: —
Gould, Birds of Australia, 1840–48.
Latham, John, General Sysnopsis of Birds, 1795.
Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.
Oliver, W.R.B. New Zealand Birds, 1955.
Page date & version: —
Thursday, 5 June 2014; ver2009v1