Hungry Fledglings

The first broods have fledged from most of the nests in our yard. What a wonderful time of year with robin, American kestrel, Bullock’s oriole, California quail, barn owl and barn swallow youngsters learning to fend for themselves. Even after the young birds leave the nest, adults often continue to feed, protect and teach their offspring for a few days.

Barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) fledglings stay with their parents for about a week after they leave the nest. During this time the young swallows can fly, yet are not quite adept enough at feeding themselves to survive. Up to 400 times a day the parents carry insect pellets in their throats to their semi-independent babies, feeding them while on the wing. At night the parents will lead their offspring back to the nest to sleep. Within two weeks of fledging barn swallows separate from their parents totally.

Currently four barn swallow youngsters spend a large portion of their day on an old wire behind our house (Modoc County CA). The adults work overtime feeding this hungry brood. I become exhausted simply watching the parents. The babies will sit quietly or preen for a few seconds, then suddenly all four start to chirp and open their mouths. That signals me that food is on the way. It is amazing how quickly the adult can fly in and away again – and in the process transfer the food pellet into an open gullet. When the adult flies off the youngsters quiet down until another parent approaches again. As I watch, the youngsters do not appear to be fed equally. Barn swallow fledglings have a prominent red gape (interior of open mouth). According to the literature, a brighter or more intensely red-gaped baby is often fed more.

Before long the fledglings will be totally on their own. I wonder how many of our 2014 parents will have a second brood?

In 2012 I followed a barn swallow nest throughout the breeding season: see “Four Eggs”, “Barn Swallow Hatchlings“, “One Week Old” and “Two Weeks Old” and others.

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