The Ranch's Newest Residents

By Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman

Driving through a pasture this weekend we noticed a single swallow swooping low across the meadows ten feet behind us, following in our wake as we stirred up insects in our path. Every spring, we look forward to the arrival of the cliff swallows. They famously return year after year to San Juan Capistrano California around March 19. We've never noted the precise date but somewhere in late March, they begin floating in giant figure-eights over our grazing cattle herds and patiently constructing their mud nests on our barn rafters.

As we walk through our herds their arrow-shaped bodies with pale yellow underbellies cut elegant arcs in the sky. They nest colonially, collectively building their tiny inverted mud hut dwellings along wood walls and beams. Last year we were dismayed when we discovered one pair of swallows carefully piling beakfuls of mud on a rafter in a portion of a barn that we were in the process of enclosing. We had no choice but to destroy the nest to force them to a location where they could freely come and go. This year, we're delighted to see that about a dozen have located themselves on the northern outer face of that same barn.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/07/the-ranchs-newest-residents/21813/