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Waterville Valley: Long-time summer home…of swallows

July 16, 2012

If you’ve visited Waterville Valley‘s Town Square, then you’ve no doubt seen the resident barn swallows and their mud dwellings tucked up in the ceilings of the Town Square walkways and stairwells.

Waterville Valley’s barn swallows return year after year to nest, lay their eggs, and care for their young chicks until they’re strong enough to fly. At first glance the swallow nests are muddy, messy globs, and the unappealing swallow “droppings” aren’t what you’d expect to find in a resort’s shopping and dining complex.

According to a blog post by the Margret & H.A. Rey Center, these swallows have probably been living in Waterville Valley much longer than most of us.

Read the Rey Center‘s post below…

Look at that face – now that is a face not only a mother should love, but everyone should love. Maybe you will agree with me after learning a bit more about barn swallows.

From talking to some long-time Waterville Valley residents, I learned that our barn swallow colony is likely descended from the colony that lived under the eaves of the historic Waterville Inn. This colony of birds has been making Waterville Valley their summer home for many years and it is for many of the same reasons that you make Waterville Valley your summer home!

Do you look forward to dining out when you come to Waterville Valley for the summer? Any good summer resort has many restaurants to choose from. The choice in Waterville Valley is just as good for the barn swallows as it is for you – our meadows and ponds provide an insect buffet for the barn swallows that can’t be beat!

Barn swallows are insectivores eating flies, grasshoppers, beetles, moths and other flying insects. They zig-zag through the air in pursuit of their prey, flying over Corcoran Pond and the surrounding fields. They even drink water while flying, skimming over the surface of the water and scooping water up in their bill. By feeding on insects from dawn to dusk, they improve our summer home by helping to control insect populations.

In addition to restaurants, any good summer home provides a variety of lodging options. Waterville Valley’s Town Square provides the shelter barn swallows need to raise their young. Barn swallows nest on human structures against vertical walls with a support structure. They create a cup nest made of mud lined with grass and feathers. The male and female build the nest together. They gather mud, roll it into a pellet and carry it back to the nest site in their bills. If you have ever done a home improvement project, it probably felt like you took 100 trips back and forth to the hardware store. If you have ever felt this way, then you can relate to the barn swallows when building their nests. The barn swallows may take up to 1,000 trips each collecting mud for the nest!

Once the nest is built, the female lays 4-6 eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs for about two weeks. Once this chicks hatch, the parents feed them in the nest for another three weeks. The parents feed their young insects, which are compressed into a pellet they hold in their throat. If you are a parent, you probably feel like you are constantly feeding your kids. Well, if you were a barn swallow, you would feed your kids up to 400 times per day! Now that is a lot of insects!

Barn swallows continue to feed their chicks for a week after they leave the nest. After their young successfully fledge, the parents may have a second brood.

Eventually summer comes to an end. Just like many of our visitors here in Waterville Valley, barn swallows make their journey home at the end of the summer. You may have a long journey ahead of you when you depart the Valley at the end of the summer, and you likely get hungry along the way. Well, barn swallows have a very long journey ahead of them; they head to Mexico, Central America or even South America to spend the winter. They fly by day eating insects they capture in flight. They will stop at night to rest, but only after traveling 600 miles. That is like you going from Waterville Valley to Washington, D.C., which would take you nine hours in a car (imagine having to flap all that way)! When winter ends, we can look forward to the return of the barn swallows once again.

Unfortunately, the barn swallow population is declining here in New Hampshire. Scientists aren’t sure what the reason for this is, perhaps one of you future scientists out there will discover the reason! In the mean time, I hope you will take the time to observe these beautiful birds that we are fortunate to have here in Waterville Valley, and remember that like you, barn swallows find all their summer home needs right here in our beautiful Valley.

About Jan Stearns

I've been living in and loving New Hampshire's White Mountains for most of my life. I moved to Waterville Valley in 1981 and quickly realized why it was dubbed a Yankee Shangri-la. Once you’ve experienced Waterville Valley, you’ll want to call it yours. The great team of Realtors at Waterville Valley Realty can help you find a Waterville Valley home that fits your lifestyle and budget.

2 thoughts on “Waterville Valley: Long-time summer home…of swallows

  • Mary K says:

    I have a barn swallow nest began back in mid May on a doorway trim right on my front porch. I live in western new york and have never even seen these birds until now. It is now June 24th and the babies are getting bigger but I think it may be another 10 or so days before they venture out. I will have to get rid of the nest when this is over and they are gone. My front porch has begun to be their exclusive home and I can’t even have visitors or delivery people come without being attacked by them. It has been so very interesting though I have to say watching them build, lay and feed their young. It is not just the parents that come by to feed them. I see 3 or 4 adults in the mix. I think there are 3 or possibly 4 babies in the nest. hard to tell right now because I have to view between my blinds to try to see.

    • Jan Stearns says:

      Thanks for stopping by my blog! I, too, have barn swallow nests at my house in every corner underneath my second story deck. It’s been fun watching the traffic coming and going, but I can see how it can be intimidating to humans if the nest is near your entry door! In Waterville Valley, we’ve placed chicken wire up in places where we don’t want the birds to nest. Good luck with your swallow babies and I hope you can help them find a new place to nest next year. Jan

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