Tree Swallow Teachings: Soaring Persistence and Fearless Love

“Birds make great sky-circles of their freedom. How do they learn it? They fall and falling, they’re given wings.” ~ Rumi

After their first four eggs were stolen from the nesting box, the Tree Swallows returned. I felt forgiven as they cuddled and mated again. When she built a second nest, I laid feathers on the predator guard as an offering. She didn’t hold a grudge and used my feathers in her new nest.

The couple relaxed around me. He stayed on his perch and watched as I walked by. I knocked on the outside of the box before lifting the side to make sure his mate was out, and when she didn’t fly, I assumed she wasn’t home. I was wrong. For weeks, she stayed on her nest incubating her eggs or keeping her nestlings warm when I peered in with my big curious face. She honored me by staying and looking in my eyes without fear.

There were four new eggs and many feathers. including mine. Males also add feathers after the eggs are laid, so it was a group effort. The predator guard did its job and the eggs stayed safe.

Mama incubating & watching me



I watched them feed their brood and admired their flight in graceful soaring sky circles. A few nights ago, a little over two weeks after the eggs appeared in the nest, both parents circled the box for an hour. Calling, swooping, calling…. Little heads looked out the box door and then ducked back in. As the sky darkened and a lightning storm neared, each parent circled a few more times and dropped food inside the nesting box door. By 9 pm, they were gone.

hatchlings first day


At dawn, the parents returned, circling, calling, swooping. Little ones stuck their heads out and looked around. In and out. Almost taking the leap before ducking back in. Heads in and out for four hours before the last fledgling flew at 10 am. The world is scary and they know it, but once launched, they flew like experts with their parents in huge gliding circles. I wept at the sweetness of this Swallow family, the gift of my front row seat, and a second chance.

While I watched that morning, I argued with my impatient practical voice who wanted to weed the garden or read a book or do something “worthwhile,” but I’d known these little ones since they were eggs in a feathered nest. I was mesmerized by the patient persistence of the parents and those swooping circles, the quiet persuasion and the little heads going in and out. The parents gave me a needed lesson in patient Love. Circling and encouraging. Never giving up.



Do you have opportunities to watch nature closely? This is the closest I’ve bonded with wild birds. For the experience of having the first nest raided by a predator, see Nature’s Lessons: Forgive, Protect, and Try Again. For a post about a stellar  Bluebird season a few years ago, see When the Bluebirds Fledged.

  1. Firstly, that’s a great quote by Rumi and one I needed to read today. Thank you so much Dear Elaine for opening the eyes of my heart and helping me believe in second and hopefully third (I’ll get to that bit later) chances … as your own soaring persistence with the Tree Swallows and fearless love protected them from predators this time around and in doing so, you’ve created more magickal memories this season to share with your own heart and others …

    For right from the beginning, weeks ago, when you first fixed that predator guard over the nest-box, I’ve been curiously, patiently I guess, waiting to hear news back from the field so to speak and here it is, beautifully penned, alongside an array of gorgeous photos! All that swooping, circling and calling makes me yearn for a little space to curl up in, as your warm words return me to the Great Mother’s alchemical, cyclical, mystical womb of nature …

    Secondly, back to last weekend and there I was with Lin spellbound by swooping swallows who were giving us the most amazing display when a few minutes later I fell and broke my ankle for the third time in recent years. Hmm, I’m not done with the Animus Diet yet was my first thought! And yet, here I am today, reading and re-calling Saturday’s hypnotic Swallow display with my foot elevated, flying I’m thinking now below another bag of frozen peas! …

    Oh, many thanks my dear friend for inviting us to join you in the front row and reminding us that we all need to tap into persistence, patience and quiet persuasion at times. Today, on day four on foot rest, the garden is awash with vibrant flowers, honey bees and all sorts of flying things. Wow, what an opportunity to be given as I can watch nature up close for an entire summer! Sending much love and light to you across the oceans and oaks between us, Deborah.

    • Deborah, each time I pass the nesting box where the Swallow lost a family and raised a family, I send them a little prayer of hope. They’re in the forest with the kids now, teaching them how to find their own food and get strong enough for fall migration. I wouldn’t mind being a little bird and having that Tree Swallow Mama as my comforter. She was a calm mama. The predator guards work and I’m grateful. Only one nest was raided far from the house–and it was raided by a wren. It’s easy to tell because they destroy the eggs and fill the box with twigs so no one else can live there. Nature is tough.

      You broke your ankle for the third time? What? How upsetting! Are you in a cast? Crutches? Will you need surgery? I can give you good sites for bone building foods, supplements, and exercise. That ankle needs to hold you up for many more years. “Better Bones”
      There’s also a section on my website about bone health:
      I’m going to a physical therapist now because of Meniere’s Disease imbalance. I feel empowered, stronger and a little steadier. I do a set of exercises every day (~15 minutes) and they get a little harder as she makes them more challenging, but first you must heal. OK, now that I’ve been practical (as though there isn’t already enough advice), I want to kiss your ankle and do a ritual with you about strength and ground.

      I’m glad you have a beautiful garden and an opportunity to rest–and when you’re ready, I’ll try to convince you to become my strength training partner. Even though I have inner ear problems that cause imbalance, the remedy is in strengthening the legs, feet, and ankles and finding balance close to the earth. My oaks are growing a second set of leaves after the gypsy moth caterpillars ate the spring growth. The forest still has too much light for this time of year, but it looks like the caterpillar has a deadly fungus and a virus, so won’t be as destructive next year. That’s the hope. May your animus become a weight lifter. Sending you strength like an oak and healing powerful love, Elaine

      • Halleluiah! Let me start by saying how wonderful it is to hear your beloved oaks are now growing second leaves and that your forest is finally recovering from its terrible infestation. You must feel so relieved! Although my garden is rather small, I’m lucky to live with a keen gardener who has created lots of enchanting areas in her magickal planting gloves. Me, I’m the one sat out on the lounger, watching her, listening to birds with my notebook and pencil in hand … although yesterday I did get a fright when a magpie swooped done and took a newly fledged sparrow in its beak in one go. Yes, nature is tough indeed!

        Curiouser and curiouser! For after I left your blog I visited Jeanie’s where you could’ve knocked me down with a feather when I read about her recent broken wrist – I mean how confirming that at some level we’re all so obviously and deeply connected! I’ve expanded on my initial thoughts there so won’t repeat myself and bore you to tears here, suffice to say my falling and falling hopefully will one day reward me with Rumi’s metaphorical wings! Yes, I’m kicking ass in one of those special black boots and using a pair of silver crutches, now waiting for second scan in two weeks to decide if I need ankle surgery or not …

        It’s great to hear that you’re benefitting from physical therapy and feeling stronger and more steadier. I think imbalance is my problem too just in a different way! Despite my active lifestyle, walking and cycling lots, not forgetting the odd mountain I climb perhaps I’m doing the wrong kind of exercise and not strengthening my ankle up. Yes, when I’m back on my feet I would love to hear more about how to find balance close to the earth and yes please for a ritual about strength and ground too. Thank you again for your wonderful reply and kiss! x

        • I hope my forest will fully recover and this infestation will pass. The constant rain here is on the side of the fungus, so that’s helpful. The new leaves are small and pale, but they’ll become more robust. We don’t have magpies, but we have other birds that destroy nests. Nature always has a heart-breaking side in the world of opposites.

          I read your comments on Jeanie’s site. May we all be stronger. I hope you don’t need surgery, but my friend in CA just went through surgery yesterday. She’ll be doing physical therapy, too. (It sounds like I’m starting a little Jungian-oriented balanced strength focus group.) I walk an hour a day, but knew it wasn’t enough because I could feel myself losing the strength I built between 50 and my early 60s with strength training. The skilled physical therapist is teaching me exercises that combine balance and strength and I know I need both. I’m quite strong and hike twice a day with the dogs for a total of over an hour on hills, but the physical therapist has a good eye for where I’m out of balance. I imagine you creating your own ritual, gathering all the things that make you strong for your new altar. Sending you healing love.

          • Wow, I’m super impressed Elaine, an hour’s hike every day is excellent! I bet Willow and Disco love you so much! At best, due to time constraints, we were managing to get out walking 3/4 times a week only. I’m determined to get back out but will go slowly and look deeper into ways of finding more balance, on all levels.

          • A young dog needs lots of exercise to be decently behaved so I knew that meant I would walk more, too, because it was easy to skip days with old Willow. I walk about 20 minutes with them before breakfast and then again in late afternoon for a longer period. The best is when Disco gets to race around with another young dog. I don’t know, but imagine there are other exercises you could be doing once the ankle is healed to strengthen it–exercises that can be done indoors. Insist on seeing a physical therapist. I had to suggest it to my doctor, a lovely woman who thought it was a great idea, but hadn’t thought of it herself. Physicians often don’t refer to physical therapists. I hope you aren’t in lots of pain.

  2. I am on a blog break, but I wanted to check in today because your theme regards birds. On vacation in Missouri, I have been surrounded by nature, including avian creatures. Thanks for the inspiration here, Elaine!

    • Marian, have a wonderful vacation and thanks for checking in with me. I lived in central Missouri until I was 12 in a town called Mexico. I imagine you in the beautiful Ozarks, but maybe I’ll hear about that later in your blog. Be well, be safe, have fun. I’ll be here because the Monarchs require daily care until around October 1 when the last Monarch migrates. I’m taking this time as an opportunity for a Monarch writing retreat. Blessings on your journey.

  3. Wonderful post Elaine, I am enamored with birds, and bird watching. Love how you tend and protect your feathered friends. Watching nature is never wasted time. I’ve just returned from Utah and spent much of my time admiring the scenery. Nature is extraordinary. All my best, C

    • Thank you, Cheryl. Your life is changing! I haven’t been to Utah for many years, but I remember the incredible stone and Indian ruins. I focus on Nature more than ever since having hearing problems, but I tend to stick close to home. Fortunately, the Finger Lakes are beautiful. I’m grateful I can still hear bird songs. I’m now on to my summer project of raising and writing about Monarchs. They’re my miracle-a-day butterflies.

  4. Tipped off by a friend, I discovered a prairie restoration and preserve about 35 minutes from here, and visited in early spring, early enough that it was just Dutchman’s breeches and mostly brown meadows. Yesterday, I visited in hopes of seeing peak bloom of summer flowers, and was rewarded by the meadows standing waist-high with coneflowers of various kinds (purple, gray-headed, and Mexican Hat), some late prairie clover, some late butterfly weed, and tall eupatorium/Joe Pye Weed, lavender bee balm, turkey-foot grass/big bluestem, and so on. Asters and similar later-bloomers are not far behind. Monarchs and swallowtails were everywhere, as were dragonflies, and I saw my first indigo bunting ever! What a beautiful bird. I took photos of everything, but they are a poor second to the real thing. 🙂

    • Sounds like my kind of paradise, Joe. Indigo Buntings look like they escaped from a tropical bird house in the Amazon. I see them passing through in the spring and occasionally in the forest, but there aren’t many here. Monarchs and Swallowtails everywhere and all those nectar plants? That’s my kind of place. I’m watching Monarchs nectaring on purple thistle not far from my office windows as I write this. Then they have a sip at one of the Benary’s Zinnias in my butterfly garden. The butterflies have been magnificent this year. I have about 50 at various stages, including 9 chrysalises in my back porch nursery. I sterilized 3 more butterfly habitat crates yesterday so I’m ready for the coming brood. Thanks for telling me about the prairie restoration and preserve. It gives me faith in humans.

  5. I feel a sense of calm Elaine reading your post and the little video to follow … thank you. And again a great appreciation for your love and observation of Nature and your being absorbed into it being part of the cycle and circle of it and the care of it.

    As I write from my study desk before I get on with the day, I look out onto the mountains and sea, the mountains covered in billowing clouds, the rising mist of the sea looking almost frozen. It’s bitterly cold and overcast, more rain forecast. If and when the clouds part no doubt I’ll see snow on the mountains. There is snow in various parts of the country. The waves are crashing. These sorts of things sustain me.

    Re imbalance – the tree pose, one leg bent at right angles into other knee, standing on one knee, back ramrod straight, for even just a few moments can help with balance. I should do this more regularly – practice what I preach – but I do find it helpful!

    Thank you for this lovely post, and photographs. Be well and safe, Susan

    • Susan, I feel a sense of calm when I’m close to the birds, especially now that the simple predator guards are helping them stay safe. The nesting box birds have all moved to the forest with their families now. Butterflies are even calmer because it’s easier to protect them. I bring their milkweed to their mesh habitats on my back porch and their only interest as caterpillars is eating. They don’t want to leave until they become butterflies–and then they go. I’ve already released 10. Bitterly col rain and snow! Yes, I remember that white stuff and the cold days. It comes all too soon here.

      I know the tree pose. It’s very centering and I can do it, but I’m not rock steady for a full minute like I used to be. I’m working on it, but the physical therapist has me focused on a few balance exercises on less stable surfaces so my body can rediscover the small muscles in the legs and feet that bring us back to balance. I like what we’re doing since it has elements of free weight strength training and yoga. It’s empowering for me to dedicate myself to doing these exercises daily on top of hiking and gardening.

      I read about South Africa and feel deep concern for you and everyone there. May you stay safe in every way. Covid levels are low in western NY State because of a high vaccination rate, but that could change at any moment. Even though it’s not required, I still wear a mask in public places like grocery stores because it’s the safest thing to do.

  6. A lovely post, and one for a bird watcher’s heart. Thanks!

    • It’s lovely to hear from you, Ann Marie. The nesting box birds are on the edge of the forest with the kids now, so I rarely see them. I miss them, but I’m surrounded by Monarch caterpillars and butterflies. May you and your family be safe.

  7. So beautiful, Elaine. I got tears in my eyes as I read, “I wept at the sweetness of this Swallow family, the gift of my front row seat, and a second chance.” I too, need to be reminded frequently of their lesson of patient Love.

    Our tree swallows began migrating south about a week ago. We miss their presence, including the way that they play with each other, releasing feathers in the air for other swallows to swoop down and catch in an aerobatic dance. Our barn swallows are here for a bit longer, as they just hatched another brood this week. Now we are consumed with watching the parents tirelessly bringing food to the tiny heads with gaping mouths peeking out of the nest.

    Your lovely Rumi quote reminds me of one by William Sloane Coffin, Jr., “I love the recklessness of faith. First you leap, and then you grow wings.”

    With love, anne

    • They all made it and I watched most of the drama. The parenting skills were impressive. I don’t see the tree swallows flying in circles in the sky, but I don’t think they migrate this early. They retreat to brushy areas and to the edge of the forest so the kids can get strong and learn to find food for themselves. Occasionally I see one on my walks. Barn swallows are wonderful, too, but I don’t have them here anymore after we took down the old wood barn. They loved to nest in that barn, but can’t get in the new barn to nest. I love, love, love that quote and didn’t know it. Thank you, Anne. Sending love across the land.

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