The barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) hatchlings in the nest on our deck (Modoc County CA) are now two weeks old – born July 5th. At one week of age these four babies were just beginning to show some darker feathers, yet their eyes remained closed.
What a difference one week later on their second (week) birthday. The chicks’ eyes are now open, true feathers are visible and some rust color is evident on their breasts. They are finally looking cute, even though the bills still look too big for their bodies.
I mentioned in my last barn swallow post that the parents appeared to be feeding each of the four chicks equally. Either I was wrong or there is a genetic difference between the four babies. One youngster is definitely the largest, one the smallest and the other two graduated in between. As I watch, the nestlings continuously change positions in an effort to situate themselves in the spot where the parents usually feed. Yet, occasionally the parents will feed one of the smaller birds from an awkward position – they appear to know who needs more food.
Perhaps it is in truth less desirable to be the big, strong chick. The biggest baby already works his way onto the nest rim to stand. Occasionally this bird appears to almost lose its balance and nearly tumbles onto the ground. As the chicks continue to grow leaving less room in the nest, it will be this precocious baby that does fall out of the nest and to the fates, while the smaller hatchlings remain safe in the nest.
The nest exterior (not to speak of the deck under the nest) is becoming covered with droppings. The nestlings all put their little tail ends over the edge of the nest to defecate. One picture shows this. Occasionally one of the chicks will also take a feather in its bill and intentionally (at least it appears so) drop it over the edge of the nest. More housekeeping behavior?
These barn swallow nestlings are fun to watch. Barn swallows begin to fledge as early as 15 days after hatching. By next week the nest may be empty.