For years, the swallows and house martins that have returned to our American barn stables every spring to nest have been the bane of our lives.
The adult birds swoop in and out refurbishing their old nests, eggs are laid and in no time at all, the fledglings are sitting in rows on the criss-cross rafters spending their days creating the familiar pattern of white bird muck which turns the floor into a makeshift chess board.
Round about now, they are at peak performance. Grooming, feeding and mucking out become like a game of Russian roulette as we dodge the missiles. I am convinced that while our backs are turned, these tiny poo-making machines are looking down at us all with fierce concentration, aiming and firing with the precision of a Spitfire gunner. That’s not cheeping we can hear, it’s chortling. Yet the moment we look up they assume an air of total innocence. Butter wouldn’t melt in those teensy beaks.
Every day we clean the ponies up, and every day they are transformed into appaloosas again within hours — with the exception of the flea bitten grey who comes into his own for a few short weeks.
Just a few years ago we counted 118 little fledgling faces, so they were a real force to be reckoned with. When they were in full voice it was a bit like standing in the middle of Paddington station in rush hour. You could hardly hear yourself speak. “Please,” we prayed, “somebody give them all a worm and shut them up.”
But each year the numbers have dwindled. Last year we counted just 25 fledglings, while this year it is around 19. While their aerial bombardment skills are as effective as ever despite their rapid decline — those that are left seem to be working overtime — the mad clamour has died down to a much more modest level. And of course, now they are vanishing we miss them. I have read about the decline in wild bird populations and this seems to be the proof. It’s very sad.
I don’t really need or want any more reminders about how fast time is rushing by. But to put a positive spin on it, the message is clear: life is short. Nothing stays the same. So buy the damn pony! Cram another competition into the schedule! Or better still, don’t lie in bed tomorrow morning. Get up with the sun, go for a ride and listen out for the birdsong while you still can.
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Of course, I might be wrong about the reason for the decline. The birds may have got together and decided they had tormented us for long enough and it was just no fun anymore. They may have taken umbridge at the curses directed their way over the years and moved on to new premises and new victims. So if you have a sudden invasion of swallows and house martins looking for lodgings feel free to tell them to please come home now, all is forgiven.
Picture caption – ‘Victim of an unprovoked aerial attack.’