Conservation Science Intern, Caitlin Russel reflects on her swallow monitoring project.

“If I was a bird, I would be a swallow,” was the enthusiastic reply of an A Rocha staff member after I monotonously outlined my barn swallow monitoring project at the start of the summer. I was surprised. You see, even though I was happy to be taking on this project because it meant front row seats watching the growth of the adorable nestlings, my initial opinion on this species was that they were, well, a bit generic. I had yet to appreciate what exactly makes barn swallows cool.

So what DOES make barn swallows cool? Although seeking the answer through my research gave me plenty to marvel at, it was my experience doing weekly nest checks and connecting with landowners that gave me the tools to tackle the mystery.

Listening to the endearing faint cheeps of the begging newborns and contrasting the clumsiness of the first flying attempt with the majesty of the dives, spins, twirls and loops of the adult swallows make you realize there is plenty to love but even more to connect with. Time and time again, landowners spoke of the swallows “crying” for dead nestlings and being “lonely” looking for a mate.

What makes swallows special is how easy they are for us to identify with, relating to them as either what we are or what we strive to be. It warms my heart see them as lovers, sometimes breeding together for several years, as attentive parents, sharing the responsibilities of nest building, foraging, nest protection, and even nest cleaning and finally as a family, flying together weeks after the young have left the nest. Viewing these social birds as just like us, it becomes easy to share in life and death as grieving neighbours and proud friends.

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