White Fluffy Chicken Feathers

by davidbunch - Date: 2010-07-23 - Word Count: 470 Share This!

In his seminal book on swallows entitled 'Selborne', White says, "Careful workmen when they build mud walls (informed at first perhaps by this little bird) raise but a moderate layer at a time." I have known of masons who put up too much wall at a time, only to have it all fall down. In regard to this, and in commenting upon instinct as compared to reason, White says exactly what I have so often felt-that sometimes, under some conditions, instinct is wonderful and far superior to reason, while in other circumstances instinct can be utterly disastrous, reason being far superior.

The nest was rapidly built, the swallows using mud. White says of his swallows: "The crust or shell of this nest seems to be formed of such dirt or loam as comes most readily to hand and is tempered and wrought together with little bits of broken straws to render it tough and tenacious." In my shop, the swallows used heavy clay mud with short grass and weed stems as a binder. As loam was not used, it is quite possible that in White's day the word loam had a wider application. Barn swallows lay from three to six eggs, white, marked with speckles of Indian red and brown. Fearing to alarm them I did not climb up to look into the nest. Since there were three young, however, there must have been at least that many eggs. I did notice, from below, that the swallows used some white, fluffy chicken feathers for a coverlet to the nest, feathers they must have brought from a distance.

Although I had red chickens just below the nest, the swallows evidently preferred white feathers, and were willing to fly far for them. Tests with electrical apparatus prove that small birds do not hear the human voice, it being pitched too low for their ears. Nevertheless my swallows, the female at least, could easily hear me when I spoke. When I went through the room on the ground floor, I could look off through an opening in the ceiling to the nest, and although I could not see her on the nest, whenever I spoke to her softly, "Hello sweetheart", the mother bird would at once rise up and look down at me. This happened so many times during incubation that there was absolutely no question but that she heard me.

In answer to an inquiry concerning this, Professor A. A. Allen of Cornell said that in Nature, in the open or wild, it is impossible to tell just what birds do or do not hear, because the human voice may set up overtones. With this I certainly agree. When the young were first hatched, both the parents spent much time at the nest, both hovering over the young and feeding them frequently.

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