Houston Chronicle, United States - May 18, 2014 My daughter and son-in-law, who live in Rosenberg, have acquired some new tenants at their house. These tenants are short-term residents. They will only be here for the summer. They will be paying rent "in kind" by entertaining their landlords and by catching flying insects. Yes, the new tenants are Barn Swallows. The swallows moved in earlier this spring and decided that they liked the look of my children's front porch as a place to raise their family this summer. That light fixture hanging on the wall gave them the perfect platform for building their nest. It wasn't a barn rafter, but it would do. These birds, like their bigger cousins the Purple Martin, have a long-time association with humans. They have long chosen to build their nests on or in human structures like barns. Thus, their name. In fact, like the martin, they have virtually given up building nests on anything other than a human structure. This is a symbiotic relationship - both parties benefit. The swallows gain a measure of protection from predators by nesting close to humans and the humans gain the services of a mighty hunter of annoying flying insects. Barn Swallows eat a lot of flies, beetles and wasps as well as a variety of other insects. They fly close to the ground at the level where mosquitoes fly, so they are much more likely to be devourers of those pesky whiners than are the martins who do their hunting much higher up. And yet it is the martins who have the reputation as mosquito-eaters. Go figure. As Susan and Wade watch the progress of their tenants' nest, they should observe 4-5 eggs that are white with brown spots. Rarely, the female will lay more than five eggs. Once brooding of the eggs begins, both partners share the duties. Incubation takes from 13-17 days. When the babies hatch, both parents work hard to feed them. Sometimes offspring from the pair's previous brood will also help with feeding the new babies. The young leave the nest at 18-23 days old and start the process of learning to feed and support themselves. Occasionally, the pair will then raise a second brood. Barn Swallows, like other members of their family, are generally faithful to a nesting site, returning to the same area to nest year after year. If my kids prove to be hospitable landlords to these birds, they may see them again next year. True, there is one downside to being a bird's landlord. Your tenants won't carry around mop and pail to clean up after themselves, so the landlords might have to put up with a little mess for a few weeks, but it is all easily cleaned up once the birds are headed south again. And having these beautiful creatures around for a few weeks is worth a little mess. Don't you agree?
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