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Repair shop fixes a broken bird nest

Northern rough-winged swallow. (Photo by Basar, Wikimedia Commons)

One August day Sandy, a Duluth resident, got a phone call from her friend, Chuck, at the repair shop. Like Sandy, Chuck loved animals and he had a problem that Sandy might help him solve. That morning he had found four baby birds on the ground.

Show a person like Sandy an animal in trouble and there's nothing she won't do to lend a hand. After some phone work, she located Wildwoods. She then put the box of mystery birds in her car and headed south. Once there, bird ID book in hand, Sandy and the wildlife rehabber examined the babies and decided they were most likely northern rough-winged swallows. Though they were still nest-bound, they were only days from leaving the nest and learning to fly and feed.

Raising baby birds of any species is a big project for a wildlife rehabilitator. Not only do they need to be fed frequently during daylight hours, but they also need to eventually learn how to fend for themselves.

It is possible to teach a bird such as a robin how to hunt for food. First, we have the food in plain sight in his enclosure. Once he develops a taste for it, we partially bury it under a thin layer of soil, and then later completely bury it.

But how does an earthbound human teach an aerial feeder like a swallow to hunt flying insects?

They called Chuck to find out more information. Chuck had found the baby birds next to an outside wall by one of the overhead doors of the repair shop. Might there be a way to get the birds back up on the wall in a substitute nest? Chuck and his co-workers were willing to try.

Since it was nearly two hours since the baby swallows had eaten, the rehabber fed them some specially formulated baby-bird food. She found an old plastic margarine tub for a nest replacement and made small drainage holes in the bottom in case it rained. Then she and Sandy transferred the birds to this new nest.

Chuck and the others would watch the nest for up to two hours once it had been secured up onto the repair shop wall. If the parents did not return by then, Sandy would bring the babies back to Wildwoods where volunteers would raise them.

Give kind, resourceful people like the men at the repair shop a problem to solve, arm them with tools and no solution or nest site is beyond reach. Roll of duct tape and tub of swallows in hand, one of the men climbed into the basket of a Genie aerial lift and hoisted himself into the air. As he traveled up along the repair shop's outer wall, he saw mud and straw stuck to the wall about 20 feet above the ground and realized this was probably where the nest had been. After duct-taping the plastic nest of swallows into position, he lowered and backed away the lift. Everyone waited to see what would happen.

The repair shop's overhead doors are open during the day and swallows freely fly in and out. Ever since the nest had fallen that morning, the parents had been frantically circling and wheeling around the shop, looking for their chicks. Within a short time of the new nest's placement in the old site, the parents were back at the nest and feeding their babies.

How many swallows make a summer? More than one, but beyond that, no one knows for sure. How many swallows make a summer's day just about perfect? If you ask Sandy and the men at the repair shop, they'll tell you that the answer is six: four chicks joyfully reunited with their loving parents.

Peggy Farr

Peggy Farr is a volunteer and board member of Wildwoods and works in human health care.

Wildwoods is a 501(c)(3) wildlife rehabilitation organization in Duluth. For information on how you can help wildlife, including volunteer opportunities, visit, call (218) 491-3604 or write to P.O. Box 3161, Duluth, MN 55803.