Yesterday evening, after another wild thunderstorm, I look in the nesting box closest to my house and find 5 tiny white eggs nestled in feathers. The Tree Swallow Mama feathers her nest while she lays one egg each day. She’s the best interior decorator I’ve hosted, adding new colors—black, striped, and fluffy white—and rearranging feathers.
A few times each day she meets her mate for a conference on the nearby roost. As they lean into each other, I imagine them discussing if they should have more children.
Because I’m curious and nosy, I check on her this morning to see if she laid more eggs. Her nesting box is just down the driveway where it makes a turn toward the barn. The dogs and I walk within six feet of the box at least four times a day and neither she nor her mate seem bothered by us. We have a nice neighborly thing going.
This morning, I clap my hands when I’m 10 feet from her box, my boots crunching on the gravel driveway as I approach. I call out, just to make sure. “Hello, Swallow Mama. I’m here.” Then I knock on the door of her nesting box, pause, and knock again. She can easily fly out the round door at the front of the box, so she must not be home.
I unlatch the hook on the side door (added to the box to stop dexterous raccoon fingers with their hunger for bird eggs) and slowly lift the door. There are white feathers inside and no Mama. All is still. Ah, she’s definitely out.
I open the door wider and notice the iridescent teal feathers of her back in the center of her white feather bed—deep Cerulean blue with a greenish tinge, the color of a tropical ocean. Her feathers glisten in morning light, complementing the white feathers covering her.
“Oh no, Little Mama. I don’t want to disturb you. I don’t want to scare you.” Tree Swallow Mama stays still, hiding her eggs under her body, making sure they are safe in this threatening world. I ease one fluffy white feather to the side with a gentle finger and see her head and beak. Her black eyes watch me, but she doesn’t seem afraid. I hope she remembers we’ve met before.
“I would never hurt you,” I whisper with a prayer of hope for this vulnerable little family. Then, I close and latch her box and slowly back away.
I send my friend and writing teacher Ellen a photo of Tree Swallow Mama and her eggs. Ellen sends me a poem.
The Thing with Feathers
Ellen Hirning Schmidt
the tree swallow builds her nest
lays an egg each day by day
cupped in woven grass and moss
she tucks a silky feather
soft and curved around each egg
a nourishing prayer within
A note and bio from Ellen Hirning Schmidt:
“I am honored to be included in The Tree Swallow’s Sacred Nest. Elaine is a dear friend and inspiration to me. She has been a vital participant in my writing classes for many years.
I first submitted poems for publication at age 70. In <4 years since, I received the Helen Kay Chapbook Prize, a Pushcart nomination, and a Connecticut Poetry Society award. My poems have appeared in Passager Poetry Contest Issue, Connecticut River Review, The Avocet, Poetry Quarterly, Caesura, Blood & Thunder, The Healing Muse, Bluff & Vine. I love teaching and supporting students’ work. I lead workshops in Ithaca, NY, Cornell Univ., Star Island, NH. My chapbook Oh, say did you know is published by Evening Street Press and available at this link.
All 5 Tree Swallow eggs hatched. In the neighboring box, there were 3 Bluebird eggs instead of the usual 4 or 5 and only 1 hatched, so for the first time, I have a Bluebird only child. Her parents tend her carefully and she shares her nest with two unhatched blue eggs. The Tree Swallow Mama leaves her nest more often now to find food for the babes, and when she flies out, her mate flies in. All is well in their world.
What do you love most about nature this time of year? For other posts about spring on my land, see When the Bluebirds Fledged. You might also enjoy The Problem with Preferences about many birds and my opinions about where they should nest.