Two little miracles

Throughout this blog, if it survives past the first year, there will, no doubt, be lots of mentions of swallows. Most years they nest in my stables and during their stay with me, they bring me such joy.

14 or 15 years ago I had just one pair nesting in my spare stable, out of which I had just moved my horse.  They had built their nest high on the gable end wall which was, unfortunately, in front of the stable door. This put them in danger from my young cats.

As soon as the hen started to sit on the nest, I made a mental note to shut the top stable door, as soon as I saw the broken shells on the stable floor, to thwart my cats’ attempts to get up to the nest. The swallows would be able to fly in and out through the stable nextdoor.

My mother was coming to stay that Saturday, so I was a little distracted and missed the broken shells. As I walked past the spare stable, when I went to let my horse out, I looked up at the nest and then down to the floor where I saw, to my dismay, the broken nest and three inert, nude little bodies on the shavings. My heart sank. Too late. I was heartbroken.

I picked up the three little bodies that could only have been a day or so old. They were but 1.5 inches long and completely bald except for a few bits of fluff. I cupped them in my hands taking the opportunity to look at wild birds at such close quarters. As they lay in my hands, looking much like Disney characters with their big heads and eyes and huge yellow beaks, did I notice a flicker of an eyelid? Was there a chance that one of them was still alive after such a fall?  I carefully cupped my hands around them, warming them and blowing gently on them. Slowly, slowly, two of them began to squirm, they were still alive, I could hardly believe it!

Now, what could I do with them? Waiting a while, until they had warmed up, I placed them on a duster, in a bowl, and put them in my linen cupboard, well away from marauding cats! Then left to drive down to my mother’s to bring her back.

On my return, I checked the linen cupboard and they were still alive! But what to feed them? It was the beginning of May, cold for that time of the year and it hadn’t rained for over a month. No flying insects L. I checked an RSPB leaflet I happened to have on caring for fledglings. Cripes, I thought, these weren’t fledglings, they were newborns! Well, it suggested scrambled eggs, and digestive biscuits soaked in water which I proceeded to feed them every few hours, with the help of a pair of tweezers.

Over the next few days, cut up worms (eeek) some flies I managed to swat (two amorous flies in one go which was a bonus) were added to their diet. They continued to survive, if looking a bit of a mess with little bits of scrambled egg and biscuit scattered about their person.

Their ‘nest’ changed to a shoebox packed with hay. They were so cute, the slightly larger one nestled his sibling under his wing and, before long, every time I opened the bathroom door they heard me coming and began to cheep madly!

Outside I could see a pair of swallows sitting up on the electricity wires above my paddock. I took the chicks in their shoebox, covered with a tea towel, out to the paddock and stood under the wires. Uncovering the shoebox, and saying to the chicks “Now cheep for all you’re worth” I held the box up, at arms’ length to let mum and dad see their chicks in the box. Every evening I did the same as, as luck would have it, the adults were roosting next to their broken nest. “Look”, I would say, “here are your babies”. During that weekend the swallows were flying in an out of my shed and barn looking for their two remaining chicks.

The chicks had fallen out of the nest on the Saturday morning, and by Tuesday morning they were still alive and I was beginning to despair. How could I train them to fly when the time came? How long could I keep feeding them every few hours? How could I continue to keep the cats away from them?

I went for a walk around the stables, hoping for inspiration. Looking into the stable nextdoor to the one with the broken nest, I looked up and saw an unused nest from the year before. Why hadn’t it occurred to me before? Why hadn’t I thought of putting the chicks in there?

Excited by the prospect of a happy ending, I put a step ladder up to the old nest and removed all the cobwebs. I brought the chicks out, stood under the parents up on the wire, removed the tea towel, again holding them up to show them. Did I imagine them moving their heads, looking down…. Quickly I took the chicks into the stable, climbed the ladder and put them, oh dear one went in head first, into the nest.

I left the stable, removing the ladder and went and hid behind my car, peering out the side to see what, if anything would happen…. I can’t type this without the tears welling up in my eyes.. After a few minutes the parents came down from the wires and… flew into the stable. Within ten minutes, they were in and out of the stable feeding their little ones.

Words cannot express how I felt. I could not believe that they had actually been watching, that they found their chicks in the nest in the other stable, three days after they had fallen from the nest nextdoor… and that they had accepted them and carried on as if nothing had happened.

Over the next few weeks I watched those little fluffy creatures turn into fully fledged birds. I was so proud of them when they flew for the first time. I had really bonded with them after caring for them for those three days, trying to find and prepare food for them, worrying about what to do with them.

It is hard to believe the tenacity of that pair of swallows, that they stayed there watching me bring out their chicks to them each day and, when the time was right, picking up feeding and caring for them again. Experts say that birds will reject chicks if they have been handled by humans… This certainly was not the case with my swallows, thank god.

Having read this post you will understand my elation when, probably in April, I will mention that my swallows have returned.

21 thoughts on “Two little miracles

    • I wish I knew. Haven’t been able to find any research on whether it is the same birds, either parents or offspring, that return the following years. My heart soars when I see them come back. Maybe they are now the great, great grandchildren of those two very lucky little birds. I was so worried that they might have had broken wings or legs from their fall. Luckily all the shavings I had left in the stable obviously broke their fall!
      Thanks for your comment ’tis much appreciated!

    • My pleasure. Thanks so much for visiting me here. I really appreciate it and am so pleased that you like my story about the swallows. I still now can’t really believed it happened. Full marks for those two adult swallows, watching and waiting. Such a heart-lifting experience!

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    • Thanks for visiting my blog Aly, it’s much appreciated! I think it’s the only happy ending I’ve had trying to save birds… Last summer I saw what I thought was a dead blackbird fledgling, inert on its back on a very cold, rainy day. One of the cats had caught it. I looked at it closely, it’s eyes were closed, but did I detect a slight waivering of his little leg, or was it the wind? I picked it up and it was stone cold. Nevertheless, I took into the porch with me cupping it in my hands and gently blowing warm breath onto it. It was so cold it was making my previously warm hands, cold. I sat there for ages, gently blowing onto it and gradually, gradually, I felt my hands warming up! After about 20 minutes it opened its eyes!! After a while when it seemed fully awake I put it in a box with some hay in the bathroom (the safest place away from my cats).
      Amazingly I got through to the RSPCA and they put out a call to one of their inspectors who was coming on duty from where she lived, a mere 7 miles away! She picked the bird up 20 mins later. The little bird was already jumping around inside his box, but wouldn’t take any food offered to him.
      The inspector said that she was going up to the RSPCA King’s Lynn Wildlife centre with some other birds so she would take him with her.
      After she had gone I was so pleased that she had taken over the responsibility of the little fledgling.
      About a week later she phoned me to say that it didn’t survive. I felt so sad…. Still I had given him a second chance, he fought back to life after having been minutes away from death, but who knows, maybe he had internal injuries? So sad having cats. They are wonderful companions but I find it difficult to cope when they bring trophies into the house, especially if they’re alive!

  2. Such a lovely lovely story! And interesting to note about warming them up like that. I will remember it. My cat is forever bringing in birds, mice and shrews. It’s difficult. Many we have caught and set free, some have not been so lucky x

    • I know. It’s the only drawback with cats… At the moment it’s mostly voles and the odd mouse, but Maisie presented me with a robin yesterday. I was so angry, robins and swallows are my favourite birds. But.. the cats know no different, it’s instinct and I have to ignore it. Can’t give them a complex about it, now can I?

  3. Hi Lynda, thanks so much for this wonderful story, and although your little blackbird didn’t make it,thanks for the tip on helping to revive not-quite-dead fledglings!!
    the story is so well written I was with you in there, and the lump in my throat was very real, thanks!
    agree re the drawback with cats. I also try to climb a long way up my walnut tree to hang the bird food out – in winter they really need it. I shall reply in like manner come the spring when i too have swallows, masses of them!
    bye for now
    susan

    • Thanks so much Susan for taking the time to visit my blog. So glad you liked my story about the swallows. Unbelievable, really. The snow has arrived – we have had about an inch in an hour! I wonder if the snow that was forecast for your area arrived or not. All horse owners will be struggling with the elements as winter conditions worsen. :-(

  4. I loved this piece on the baby swallows, what a victory and, as you say, do not take any notice of the negative comments of people who do not give much hope for saving baby birds and just go for it. Well done – you must have felt so pleased.

    • Hello Val, lovely to read your comments about my two little miracles. I always think it’s worth trying to save wildlife. Was rather upset driving home from the office tonight in driving snow. Saw a police vehicle up ahead with flashing blue lights. Oh dear, an accident, I thought. But no, as I drove past him, along the narrow lane, I saw there in his headlights a young buck fallow dear. Recognisable by his little antlers. His head was up as he was lying on his tummy, with I suspect a broken leg. He looked quit alert though. All the way home I was wondering whether the policeman was waiting for a vet or the RSPCA. One I suspect, would euthanase him, the other would probably take him to their wildlife centre up in North Norfolk. Sadly, I will never know. It always upsets me to see the carnage on our country lanes. :-(

    • Thanks for another comment, most kind! It never ceases to amaze me how those two parent birds went into that stable when I came out empty handed, and found them, one upside down, in that strange nest, and then carried on feeding them as if nothing had happened. I wonder what the chicks said to them? Oh hello mum, hello dad, we’ve just had a short holiday in this terrible hotel. Hence our dirty state, with scrambled eggs and digestive biscuits all over us!!!

    • You really can’t imagine, Sarah, how my heart lifts when they arrive! They usually turn up around 15th April, but they have been as early as the 1st. My family feels complete when the swallows are here. Think of all of those babies! Three years ago we had traumas with the nest in my stable. The very tiny chicks kept falling out of the back of the nest into Max’s shavings. Two, three or four times when I found them in the bank of shavings under the nest I popped them back in the nest and they all seemed to fledge okay. Well, all except one, which must have fallen out at night and Max had gone to sleep on top of him. Found him when I was mucking out in the morning. Flat as a pancake poor little thing. At the end of that year, when they had all gone, I destroyed the nest so they had to build a new nest the following year. It was terribly stressful!

  5. WOW ohhh how lovely is that – and you nursed them :). You should take lots of pics next time they come and pop them up on here. I wonder if it is the same ones that keep coming back to their other home. I chuckled at the amorous flies :D

    • Oh, so glad you liked it. It was a very special time for me. Yes, I’ll try to get some more pics this summer of my swallows. The ones on my blog header are three from last year’s broods. Thanks so much for your comment.

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