Sunday, May 29, 2011

Happy Memorial Day!

Barn swallows, Hirundo rustica
I saw this pair of barn swallows resting in the water gardens in Brooklyn Bridge Park this morning, just after dawn.

They deserve a rest! They spent the winter in Central or South America, returning in spring with the insects that they feed on. One banding record shows a barn swallow traveling between Panama and New York in about six weeks, averaging 55 miles a day.

And once they get here they chase flying insects all day long, catching them in the air. They fly like aerial acrobats, making sharp turns and outwitting even the wiliest insect fliers. I rarely see barn swallows sit still.

Barn swallows come back to their summer homes at about the same time every year and individuals are very likely to return to the same places. This endeared them long ago to sailors who also hoped to return safely from long journeys. The swallow became a favorite sailor's tattoo, traditionally of two swallows facing each other on the chest or back. One symbolized 5000 miles of sea travel. The second was added after 10,000 miles at sea.

For Memorial Day we wish all sailors the good luck of barn swallows and many safe returns.

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