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Twenty Little Chickadees
The Swallow Under The Eaves
It was the tenth day of April. Phyllis knew the date because it
chanced to be her birthday. She was just eight years old.
The sun shone very warm and bright, and the buds were growing big and
red on the horse-chestnut-trees.
"I shall go down to the brook to look for pussy-willows this
afternoon," said the little girl.
Phyllis was sitting in the window of the barn loft with the sun shining
full upon her. All was very quiet and the little girl was half asleep.
Suddenly, with a flash of blue wings and a funny little twitter, a bird
darted right across her face. Phyllis sat up straight, and, leaning
out of the window, looked up at the eaves.
There she saw the merry twitterer, with several of his companions, who
seemed very busy and very talkative.
They darted here and there, they skimmed through the air so swiftly
that Phyllis could only catch a gleam of blue. They wheeled and
circled and darted. All the time they twittered, twittered, twittered.
"What are they up to?" said Phyllis, leaning farther out and looking
For an instant one of the birds clung to the eaves and seemed to be
pecking away at a bit of mud which was stuck to the eaves.
Phyllis noticed the deeply forked tail of the bird. Its back and wings
and tail were steel blue. Its throat and chest were bright chestnut,
becoming paler near the back of the body.
"Oh, I know you," laughed Phyllis. "I have no fear of frightening you,
for you are a swallow.
"How does it happen that you are so fearless? You are scarcely more
afraid of us than our chickens. Why do you build so near our homes?
You are even more tame than the robin!"
The swallow twittered in a way which made Phyllis feel that he was
laughing at her. He darted so near that had she been quick enough she
might have caught him.
"We are not afraid of you!" laughed the swallow, darting close again
and then whirling away.
"What a funny bird!" said Phyllis.
In a moment the bird was back with a bit of mud in his mouth. He
plastered it up against the rest of the mud under the eaves. Then he
flew again near Phyllis.
"I suppose there was a time," said the bird, "when all swallows built
their nests on the sides and ledges of caves or cliffs. But that was
hundreds of years ago, before men came and made barns with such
comfortable places for building.
"To be sure there are swallows to this day who prefer the bank of a
brook or the side of a cave for their nesting-place. But we barn
swallows like the eaves best."
"You, too, are an early bird," said Phyllis. "Where did you spend the
There was a great twittering among the returning swallows just then and
Phyllis was obliged to wait for a reply. Back came the bird after a
"We went south last October," he said. "Late in September we gathered
in great flocks in the marshes.
"For days we stayed there waiting for the entire company to gather. At
length on one of the blue October days we flew southward.
"There were hundreds of birds in the flock. We looked like a small
cloud, as we skimmed and darted through the air. As we flew, the flock
was a half mile long.
"We spent the winter in South America. There are delicious insects
there. But for all that we love the north country best.
"By and bye Mother Nature whispered to us. She said that it was
nest-building time in the northland. Such a twittering and fluttering
there was when this news came.
"That very afternoon we started north. Day after day we flew. We met
other great flocks as we travelled, who joined us.
"Day after day we flew northward. We did not stop to eat, but caught
our food on the wing.
"Now we lunched on moths and flies. Again we dined on grasshoppers.
Any insect foolish enough to trust itself in the air at the time we
passed served as food.
"We arrived here only a few days ago. It is not yet very warm, but
here under the eaves on the sunny side of the barn it is quite
"We are so busy with this nest-building and settling for the summer.
You see we swallows do not live alone. There are always flocks of us
"We should be lonely if we lived only in pairs. That is the reason
that we build a whole little village of nests under your eaves."
"You build very queer nests," said Phyllis. "They are neither like the
robin's nor the chickadee's nests."
"No, indeed, no robin or chickadee could build such nests as the
swallow. You see we make the soft mud from the brookside into little
balls and carry it in our bills. With it we mix straws and grasses.
This holds the clay together. When the outer clay wall is finished we
line the nest with soft grasses and feathers."
"I notice there are a great many chicken feathers in the barnyard. I
shall line my nest with the softest, fluffiest feathers that I can find
"By and bye my little mate will sit in the dear clay nest and over four
or five or possibly six little eggs."
"I shall never be able to see them," sighed Phyllis. "They are up so
high. Tell me about them."
"Oh, my eggs are beautiful," said the swallow. "They are white with
just a little rose tint. They are spotted with fine dots of brown and
purple, and are about three-quarters of an inch long.
"We shall probably have three broods of birdlings this summer. What a
happy, happy time we shall have!"
All this time the swallow was darting and wheeling and circling about
Phyllis in a most graceful manner.
"Are you never still?" asked Phyllis, at last. "I do not believe you
even stop to eat."
"I do not," said the swallow, darting after a big blue fly. "I eat on
the fly." And then he burst into a giggling twitter.
"I catch nearly all my food on the wing. No one can complain--as they
do of the robin--of our destroying fruit.
"We do not care for fruit at all. I would rather have a dozen nice fat
flies than all the cherries in the world!"
"Well," laughed Phyllis, "I'd rather have a dozen ripe cherries than
all the flies in the world!"
"Tastes differ," twittered the swallow.
Next: The Swallows
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