Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Swallows Attack Lawn Dart Teams

What’s more fun when families get together than some friendly rivalry? Our most recent gathering enjoyed some spirited lawn dart competition where daughter proved she could aim and hit the mark every bit as well as her dad, uncle, and husband could. Her victories weren’t the only surprise during this adrenalin generating family feud. A nearby swallow nest packed to the brim with fledgling young flew right into the middle of their game.

When the participants set up the perimeter lines and target zones, they considered the swallow nest situated on a pole high above our fence. After some discussion, players decided their activity wouldn’t disturb the young family. Their play extended far beyond the area where mom or dad traditionally flew out of the nest, scolding trespassers.

During the first game or two, this distance appeared satisfactory. However, as noise levels increased, the tuxedoed parents grew ever more agitated and flew closer and closer to those carefully lining up their darts with the target.
Those of us sitting in the observation seats on the patio had a clear view of the increasingly irritated birds. At first, they swooped above our players’ heads by a good foot. When the focused team members ignored their shrill cries and frantic flutterings, the birds’ trajectory dropped til they cruised inches above the competitors’ hair or scalp, depending on which player they targeted.

In a further effort to appease angry swallows, the players moved their field of play over as far as they could without being in the busy street. Unfortunately, hostilities had escalated to the point that nothing the humans did satisfied the birds. The black and white torpedoes plunged right above my mom’s head, riffling silver hairs when she walked out with a water pitcher to refill their birdbath—something they’d accepted all summer long.

By the second night, we thought the birds’ emotions had settled and they’d gotten used to having extra humans in the yard. Nope! They ordered a backup crew. Instead of the two swallows who’d dive-bombed the games the night before, six birds performed acrobatics directly above the players as they focused their concentration to place weighted darts inside a yellow ring on their opponents’ end line.

Players and audience tried to figure out where these extra attackers came from. We had only one swallow nest in the yard though we had seen other birds flying about the neighborhood. While we puzzled this mystery, lawn dart competition continued til we celebrated a victor.

After our guests left the following day, we noted they weren’t the only ones absent. Our swallow family had exited as well. That offered a huge hint as to the source of the extra attackers.

We knew the babies were nearly grown. We’d seen them peeking out the bird house opening and then making awkward, short flights as their parents taught them to hunt nearby insects. They must have been more mature than we realized and emerged from the nest fully capable of joining the parents’ attacks on nearby humans.

As family gatherings go, this was a good one. It was great to see one another and to see a nearby bird household in action as well.

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