barn swallows, baby, chick, nature, georgia

When I was a kid, I used to spend all summer on Kennebago Lake in Maine. My siblings and I would swim, hike, read, and look for leeches, reveling in the long days of June, July, and August. One of our favorite activities has always been kayaking, and I have vivid memories of looking for swallow nests under the beams of wooden bridges. From the kayak, we gazed upward, beaming when we caught a glimpse of their wiggling heads and heard their cheeping voices.

barn swallows, babies, nature

Barn Swallow chicks.

Over the weekend, I visited Sapelo Island on the coast of Georgia, catching a glimpse of baby Barn Swallow chicks for the first time since my summer years on Kennebago. To reach Sapelo, visitors must be sponsored by someone on the island and board a 15 minute ferry from the mainland. I was there to tour a long term ecological research site, and while I waited for my ride I noticed dozens of Barn Swallows swooping through the air.

I stood in the shade of a wooden overhang, with two door-less rooms for storing equipment and soda machines open to the dock. As I watched, a swallow flew past our heads and ducked under the overhang. The moment it disappeared from view I heard the signature chirping of tiny avian chicks, and following the sound I immediately found the nest.

Built from mud, grass, and feathers, the nest held at least three babies. I can’t help saying it: they were cute. Their bodies were blue-purple, but tiny bills glowed a bright yellow in the shadow of the ceiling. In fact, when they opened wide for food, it looked like their mouths made up their entire heads!


barn swallows, baby, chick, nature, georgiaA close up of their adorable faces.

The nest was built fairly low on the wall, and with my zoom lens I had a great view of the chicks. Before, I had never noticed that the tops of their heads sprout tiny feather-wisps, giving them a cartoon-ish appearance.

Eventually my ride arrived, and I bade the birds adieu. In my book, seeing baby birds of any species is a great way to start a trip!

Written by Erika Zambello
Erika Zambello is a National Geographic Young Explorer who grew up in Maine, inspiring a deep interest in nature at an early age. She fell in love with birding after receiving a Sibley field guide for Christmas during her senior year in college, and has birded across the eastern seaboard and internationally ever since. To inspire others to protect birds and the environment, she has blogged for the Conservation Fund, Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Triangle Land Conservancy, and Duke University, and is writing a birding guide to Northern New England for Wilderness Adventures Press. She has founded, and is currently living along the Emerald Coast in Florida's Panhandle. You can check out her exploration site or follow her on Instragram.