The Swallow's Nest

O FTEN in former years the twitter of the birds glittering in the morning sun was the first sound that met my ear during the wakeful hours which frequently accompany illness after the worst crisis has passed, and you are recovering by degrees. The gutters ran beneath my bedroom windows, and I could see the steel-blue backs of the swallows as they sat on the rims of the gutter, twisting their little heads, opening their yellow-lined beaks, singing to their hearts' content. Whole families would perch there together, or the young would rest in rows of four or five, according to the nest-broods of each. How delightful to see them fed by their agile parents! how tantalizing to have them almost within reach of my hands, yet not to be able to catch them or give them a kiss, as they would cower in my hollow hands if I only could have got them in there!

Swallow. Red-Fronted, Common, Or Chimney Swallow. Figure 16. [third row, right]

Varioud bird eggs

The Hirundine  Birds, or Swallows, form a very distinct group; they have slender bodies, and large, powerful wings, which enable them to fly with great velocity, skimming over the moist meadows, where their insect food most abounds, and wheeling and circling about trees and buildings in a swift and easy manner, which appears to be the very perfection of motion. They are all migratory birds, coming to us from Africa and the south of Europe to breed, and returning to those warm climates to pass the winter.

The Common Swallow, called by naturalists Hirundo rustica, the first word signifying a Swallow, and the second, of, or belonging to the country, generally arrives in Britain in the latter half of the month of April, or the beginning of May, some time in which month the nest is commenced; it is of a broad cup-like shape, and is formed of moist earth, collected bit by bit from the side of a pond or stream, and moulded together with straw and grass: there is a lining of feathers, or some other soft materials. The situations chosen are sheltered spots beneath eaves or projecting roofs of any kind, shafts of mines, holes in the sides of pits and quarries, old wells and out-buildings, bell turrets, the under sides of spouts and bridge arches; most usually the spot selected is near human habitations. Who is not awakened in the bright summer mornings by the twittering of the young birds near his bed-room window? These birds have frequently been known to build in empty unused rooms, to which access could be gained through a broken pane of glass; they are said to nestle near chimneys for the sake of the warmth, being apparently not at all annoyed by the smoke which issues thence.

The eggs of the Swallow are usually from four to six in number; they are white, thickly speckled over with ash-coloured, dark red, or brown spots. Morris says that two broods are frequently hatched in the year, the first of which flies in June, and the second in August. It is most interesting to see the parent birds tempting them on from one resting point to another, and so teaching them to use their wings, feeding them in a most dexterous manner while on the wing; it is said that these careful parents, ere the young can provide for themselves, bring them food about once in every three minutes throughout the day. The male Swallow is a handsome bird; the wings, long forked tail, head, neck, and upper part of the breast, being brownish black, with a steely blue reflection, which is only seen in certain lights. The forehead and throat are chestnut, and there is a tinge of the same on the delicate white under parts of the body. Undoubtedly a handsome bird, and one of the most familiar of our feathered friends while it remains with us, which is until the autumn is fairly set in. You may know when the Swallows are about to leave, by their frequent consultations on the roofs, and by the more frequent utterance of their low, and not unmelodious warble, which is very different from the short, sharp cry, consisting of two notes, which they utter occasionally when hawking, as it is called, after insects.

Previous to their departure they may be frequently observed wheeling in rapid circles in the air, as if trying their wings, and drilling for their long, and no doubt orderly flight. We might quote plenty of poetry on this bird, for its beauty, grace of motion, and familiarity with man, have made it ever a general favourite, but for want of sufficient space we shall not be able to make use of any. In some allusion is made to a notion once entertained even by scientific naturalists, that the Swallows did not actually leave this country in the cold season, but hybernated, as it is called, from the Latin hyems —winter; that is, wintered here, passing the time in a state of torpor, or sleep, somewhere out of sight, as the dormouse and some other animals do. But it is now certainly known that this is a false impression; a few young or sickly birds, unable to endure so long a journey, may be, and no doubt are, left behind; these constitute but an exception to the rule of annual migration.