The Return of the Swallows
6/14/2014 by: Vicki Dorshorn

It's that time of year again when the barn swallows arrive to claim their old nest or build a new one. This year, we had an interesting pair checking out both the back and front deck roofs. They couldn't decide where to build. They started several nesting areas, as obvious by the mud plastered in several places. They even tried to build somewhere on top of the roof.

Finally, they picked a site (after several days) and stayed with it long enough to get about half the nest built. One of them, the female I assume, sat in the nest to try it out. I thought they were going to go with it, but then she left and I haven't seen them since.

We decided that part of the problem was that we were having a lot of rain, so the mud was too wet—their saliva just had nothing to combine with because they already had wet, sticky mud. Or maybe they were just first-timers.

But their behavior aroused my curiosity, so I did some checking on-line and found some interesting facts about barn swallows.

  • It takes about 1,000 mouthfuls of mud, plus straw, strings, horsehair, feathers, and water-repellent grasses to make a nest. Sometimes it takes up to a week to finish it.
  • They like to come back to a nest they built before or one in which they were fledged. (Like, how do they remember where it is?)
  • At summer's end, they migrate as far south as Argentina for the winter. Then they come back.
  • They are second in speed to only the hummingbird (in North America), which makes sense since they fly so far in their migration.
  • They mate for life.
  • They average three to five young each sitting, though they sometimes have only one or as many as seven. (I can't imagine seven fledglings in those small nests!)

But they are fun to watch, both in their building and in the way they feed their young. And watching the young learn to fly is a hoot.

All of their activity reminds me that there is a creator in charge. Otherwise, they would have died off generations before they learned and adapted to these behaviors and to conditions. After all, they only live about five or six years.

I love that they are mentioned in the Bible. In some places where the word is translated "swallow," it actually refers to a "swift," which is a different species. But one place where the translation is spot on is in Psalm 84: 3: "Yes, the sparrow has found a house and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God." Notice, she wants a safe place to lay her young and finds the house of the LORD a safe place.

The Message Translation talks about this as birds singing in the temple. I think it is interesting that the birds mentioned are both the ones that hop and flit (flying short distances) and the ones that fly thousands of miles; both the birds that stay in one place all year and migratory birds. That's a metaphor for the openness of God. Revelation 5:9 and 7:9 speak of the redeemed as being "out of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people."

Anyone can find a home at the altar of God; and that altar is always with us, because God is always with us. We can bask in his presence always; and it is safe to bring up our young in his presence. Like the sparrows and swallows, we can sing in the storm, celebrating the rain as a blessing and God as our umbrella; and we can sing on a clear day, being shielded from the harmful rays of the sun by our God and King. ("For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory . . . "-- Psalm 84: 11). He gives us grace now, for salvation (Ephesians 2: 8) and life (Titus 2: 11-12); he gives us glory now, as we grow in his presence (2 Corinthians 3: 18). And there is more grace to come (Ephesians 2: 7) and more glory to follow (1 Peter 1: 7-8).

"O LORD of hosts, blessed and happy is the person that trusts in you"—Psalm 84: 12. Amen. 

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