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Tree Swallows and Feathers

Is it play? Probably competition!

Tree Swallows glisten in the June sunlight, as they swoop and glide, their arcs interlacing in the air. When a white feather flutters down among them, one swallow snatches the feather in its bill and flies upward, as another gives chase. After a moment, the lead bird lets loose the feather, which drifts lazily, until the second bird swoops to catch it in midair. Loose feathers are important for Tree Swallows. They line their nests thickly with them.
Support for BirdNote comes from Song Bird Coffee, offering bird-friendly organic shade-grown coffees for over 20 years. Learn more at birdnote.org/songbird.

Full Transcript

Transcript: 
BirdNote®
Tree Swallows and Feathers – An Aerial Ballet

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote!

[Tree Swallows’ gurgling calls]

Tree Swallows glisten in the June sunlight, as they swoop and glide, their arcs interlacing in the air. Agile, elegant masters of flight, the swallows gather near their nestboxes, clustered on posts at the edge of a marsh. [Gurgling calls (interspersed through the rest of the script)]

A white feather flutters down among them. One swallow snatches the feather in its bill and flies upward, as another swallow gives chase. After a moment, the lead bird lets loose the feather, which drifts lazily, until the second bird swoops in to catch it in midair. The aerial ballet of swallows and feather swirls on for minutes, as other swallows join in the feather chase.

Are the swallows just playing or are they competing for these feathers? Loose feathers are an important resource for Tree Swallows. They line their nests thickly with them, a featherbed for nestlings.  Continuing research suggests that, as Tree Swallows build their nests, it is the females who collect the feathers. Their aerial dance may well be a competition for nest-lining material.

And the males in the feather chase? Maybe they’re just playing along. [Tree Swallows’ gurgling calls]

For Birdnote, I’m Mary McCann.

Support for BirdNote comes from Song Bird Coffee, offering bird-friendly organic shade-grown coffees for over 20 years. Learn more at birdnote.org/songbird.

###

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by G.F. Budney.
Nancy Rumbel composed and played the theme music.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org      June 2018     Narrator: Mary McCannID# 060407TRES2KPLU         TRES-02b

Research cited: see Cornell Hughes Scholars website, 2006.

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