I moved into my new house only last week, and I already have several visitors who do not look like they are in a hurry to leave. It was such a lovely feeling to have some kind of wildlife streaming in just as I unpacked, as if to welcome me to the bush life. I thought it would feel lonely in this place where my next neighbour is about 500 metres away. But nature provided companionship almost immediately. The house is not yet complete but my visitors are as happy as I am to make use of the shelter as it is. Because there is warmth, there is love and there is protection for my visitors. At the count of two weeks, I have about 10 nests coming up at the basement of the house. Those will be the dwelling homes of the barn swallows. They are my new visitors.
When advertising for land sales, I have heard endlessly the mention of important amenities that are found within the property. Talk of good schools, shopping malls, water and electricity, proposed improvements and upcoming commercial centres. All these are things to consider when buying a property either for use or for speculation. These are the things that add value to any property, and things a buyer will want to hear to be persuaded to accept an offer. It is interesting to note the same things that humans look for in order to make their lives more bearable are the same things animals look for.
For most of the bird’s species, the male is the one that is tasked to look for a place to build a home, even if the home is only for a season. As soon as the male attains the age of sexual maturity and without any experience at all, he must go out and search for the right place to build a home. The place must be able to attract the female, who will mate with the male and make him babies to carry on his genes. The choice of the home must be just right. It must be close to some source of water. Food must be readily available for the family and the small ones when they come. The place must be safe from crawling killers – those that come from the sky, and those who can climb trees. If the nest will be built on a branch, it is much more challenging for the builder.
The branch must be strong enough to carry the weight of the male and female birds, the nest and whatever eggs will be laid. But the branch must be weak enough not to be able to support the weight of an egg-eating snake. Appreciating the fact that no male bird would have weighed a snake to determine the strength of the branch, it is left entirely for the male bird to judge by instinct exactly where to place the foundation of the nest. If the female vaguely feels the nest does not measure up to standard, she will tear it down and destroy it. Good thing though, she will not run away to the next suitor yet. The male has another chance. As she sits there and watches, the male tries again, maybe using a different branch or a different spot on the same branch. He will keep trying until he gets it right. He will know it when she comes in and starts to decorate the nest with soft materials that will be the bed for the eggs. He will know he lost it when she finally gives up on him and starts flirting with another male.
For some weavers and my visitors, the swallows, it becomes easy for those who are exposed to human settlements. They have discovered to their advantage that most people do not like to see any type of eagles around their homes because they steal their chickens. They also know that around people’s homes, there will always be water, and some lose grains from the farms. So the little swallows just look for a quiet place within the compound and build their homes. But even if the place would be busy and noisy, the birds may overlook that and build their nests anyway, as long as there will be food and safety for their children.