Barn swallow behavior questions.

We have barn swallows that nest in our barn (where else?). They are cool birds to have around, and I’ve seen them do some interesting things.

This weekend, as I was mowing the lawn, one of them began flying circles around the lawn tractor. I assume I was stirring up insects and the bird was capitalizing on this. Is my assumption likely? Will the bird learn to associate the lawn tractor with feeding and repeat this behavior?

Last year I was watching swallows swooping down over the surface of our pond. Again, I thought they were eating bugs. Do they also drink in flight? Then I saw one pick up a duck feather from the water surface and fly off with it. Their nests are “mud” so I wondered about the feather. Then the bird dropped the feather, flew a circle and caught it again. I saw the bird repeat this a few times. Was it “playing”?

Also, anything in particular we can do to make their lives happier? :smiley:

Swallows not only drink, but also bathe by skimming over water. They will also pick up bugs off the water’s surface. They often follow lawn mowers and tractors that are kicking up bugs ripe for eating. I couldn’t say if they will actually associate food with the sound of machinery, though.

How funny. I was just watching a group of 12 to 15 swallows seemingly play follow the leader and was also wondering if they “play”. They were flying kind of a figure eight between some buildings and turning around in a vacant lot and a green space. They stayed in tight formation but seemed to dip and weave in response to the “leader”. After 15 laps or so with a lot of vocalization, the next time they came to the turn it was like a firework and they all went off in different directions. It was the neatest thing I’ve seen in a while.

I was told that swallows pick up mud and grass from puddles to construct their nests. I took a picture of one in a puddle and it wasn’t bathing–it had a piece of grass in its beak.

They seem to like clipped lawns and parks–maybe those attract the bugs they eat. I asked an ornathologist about them and he assured me that they were mostly immune to West Nile. Lots of swallow=fewer misquitoes. Enjoy them!

Actual conversation:
“Children, this is a picture of a barn swallow.”
“Miss Xoferew! There’s no WAY that bird could swallow a barn!”

I too have experienced the swooping around the lawnmower behavior. Hey, fewer bugs to smack me in the face! They come really close to the mower - really maneuverable and cool.

Yeah! I’ve seen swallows battle over a duck feather, which can only be successfully carried in flight one way (curve of feather matching breast of swallow) The hapless or inexperienced swallow who dashes in and grabs the feather cupped surface out wobbles, then loses his prize to other more aerodynamic birds.

One swallow will pick up a feather on the fly, soar, drop feather, and dive to recapture the toy with others battling for the win. I have seen a few feather lined swallow nests, but usually the feather game seems to end when all tire of it and move on and allow the feather to float back to earth. If it isn’t play, I’m jealous of that kind of work.

I believe following lawn/farm equipment in order to hunt injured insects is learned behavior, and I haven’t mowed a lawn in 20 years without a full on airshow happening around me. The only reason to look forward to yard work, for sure :slight_smile:

They seem to follow me on my tractor as well. It always seems as though they are on a collision course, but turn off at the last moment.

In Texas we used to have egrets trailing the mower in our hayfield, enjoying the bounty of bugs it stirred up.

Thanks for the info everyone! I was feeding the horses this morning and was happy to see baby barn swallows peeking out of the nest.