Nesting Swallows

Nesting Swallows

Exuberant joy characterizes the flights of the colonies of swallows along the cliffs on the shore of Lake Michigan. One of the most common of the swallows of the golden coast is the purple martin. This bird almost exclusively lives in the company of man. Considering the number of houses and cottages that line the edge of the bluffs, as well as the fact that there is water and safety from predators, it is no wonder that there are many colonies of purple martins. People put up martin houses to attract the juveniles later in the spring. Once they set up housekeeping, they will come back year after year to entertain their human benefactors and help keep the flying insect population under control. This relationship of the purple martin to man is a unique and beautiful example of man’s important position as head of the creation.

A wild cousin of the purple martin is the cliff swallow that inhabits the crumbling sand cliffs found among the dunes. The cliff swallow digs a shallow tunnel about a foot deep in places where the vertical face of the cliff makes its nest inaccessible to predators. Often, one can stand on the bluff above the colony and watch these incredibly graceful birds shoot in and out of their holes with out slowing up. As a boy, my curiosity led me to dig out some of the nests to see how deep they were. I remember having my arm in the sandbank up to my elbow before I found the eggs on a little nest. Of course, I would never recommend that today because the nests were destroyed in the process.

One of my most memorable experiences happened recently on a project where I had to remove sand next to a colony that numbered easily 600 to 800 nesting pairs along several hundred feet of shoreline. The 80 foot high bank had slid several years before so that there was a band 2 feet high just below the edge of the cliff where the birds could build nesting sites. The air was thick with swooping and upset birds, unhappy that we had to cut away a spot on the cliff. Suddenly, right where we stuck a shovel into the ground, a huge snake seemed to leap right out of the ground at my workers. After recovering from the shock, we realized it was a large blue racer, nearly four feet long that had been coiled in one of the nests in a hunt for eggs or fledglings. Though most predators could not get at the nests, he was apparently able to slither over the edge and work from hole to hole. We uncovered him when we cut a way the edge of the cliff. I have learned that the blue racer is an constrictor that is known as a black snake in other parts of the United States. Around the Great      Lakes this snake has a unique blue color phase.

The Creator has shown us many things to reflect on , from His care of even these little birds to their beautiful swooping flight. I can watch them fly for hours in my own yard where I have tree swallows and barn swallows.

I would like to focus on the fact that even these small creatures have a family instinct. They have a desire to socialize and from a community. Man has been created with that same need. In our families, our communities, and our churches we seek fellowship and friendship. In our churches we gather to worship our God and reflect His love for us by caring for one another’s needs. There is no such thing as a Christian who is spiritually alive and without a desire to worship and fellowship with other saints. In fact, it is the rhythm and interaction of a colony of swallows that makes it so fascinating. (Who can ever forget the sight of 20 swallows sitting side by side on a wire; or of a swallow sitting by its mate hit on the road by a car, as if in mourning?) So too, the Church, with its mutual love and support, has its own beauty. The many individuals with many different personalities, talents and needs together form the body of Christ in a particular place. It too, is wonderful to behold.

Deane Wassink
August, 2001