This observation of a family of swallows over 150 years ago struck me, along with another surprising tale by Thoreau.

Apart from the impressive behaviour of the birds on both counts, in reading these immediate, living accounts, I wonder whether Thoreau had any idea that what he was so painstakingly noting down would be edited, published and read a century and a half later, or would be featured with a technology that would have seemed fantastically futuristic.  And yet here I am typing this note ready to post on a website celebrating fine writing and ideas.

See also a more up to date note on swallows, penned in the last 24 hours. Wonder if anyone will read it in 150 years.


Source: Henry David Thoreau,The Journal 1837-1861, Damion Searls (ed.), preface by John R. Stilgoe (New York: New York Review Books, 2009), p. 477

Photo credit: Joachim_Marian_Winkler at


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Jacob Farmer tells me that one Sunday he went to his barn, having nothing to do, and thought he would watch the swallows, republican swallows.  The old bird was feeding her young, and he sat within fifteen feet, overlooking them.  There were five young, and he was curious to know how each received its share; and as often as the bird came with a fly, the one at the door (or opening) took it, and then they all hitched round one notch, so that a new one was presented at the door, who received the next fly; and this was the invariable order, the same one never receiving two flies in succession.  At last the old bird brought a very small fly, and the young one that swallowed it did not desert his ground but waited to receive the next, but when the bird came with another, of the usual size, she commenced a loud and long scolding at the little one, till it resigned its place, and the next in succession received the fly.  (9 November 1857)

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