The CLIFF SWALLOW –
There’s a captivating children’s book, Song of the Swallows, written by Leo Politi in 1949 and awarded the Caldecott Medal…
The story is about the wonderful friendship of a little boy named Juan and an old man named Julian who tended the gardens and rang the bells at the Mission of San Juan Capistrano in Capistrano, California… and the lovely little Sparrows who came flying in from the sea on St. Joseph’s Day.
The story begins in spring, when hundreds of Sparrows, known to Juan as las golondrinas, built their small mud nests against the beams of the roof of the Mission. Juan loved to watch them and listen to their beautiful songs. He loved to count their eggs and watch the babies hatch and then learn to fly.
One day in late summer, Julian noticed that the Swallows were very excited and ready to fly to a land far south.
Juan was sad to see the Swallows fly beyond the horizon, but Julian explained that they would return again in spring, exactly on St. Joseph’s Day. Juan decided to create a beautiful garden at his own little house for the Sparrows, to welcome them when they returned.
Autumn and winter passed in the little town of Capistrano, and just as Julian had promised… the Sparrows returned on St. Joseph’s Day and filled the Mission and Juan’s garden with their joyous sweet sounds.
Juan and Julian together rang the Mission bells to celebrate and tell all the people of the town.
That night, as Juan watched the Swallows from his window, he could hear Julian singing the Swallow song from the Mission’s gardens.
What we discover in Song of the Swallows is a wonderful, tender message of friendship between Juan and Julian… and between human beings and birds.
We also discover the almost magical return of the Swallows on March 19th, St. Joseph’s Day… a phenomenon that Julian cannot explain.
But what is the real tweet-tweet on the Swallow in real-life ? Here are a few little tidbits to pass along to your kids and grandkids to combine literature and life:
– The Cliff Swallow is a small, stocky Swallow species with a small bill, long and pointed wings and a square tail.
– The Cliff Swallow has a whitish forehead, brownish-orange face, whitish underparts, light brownish-orange behind and dark bluish-gray upperparts. Its crown is bluish-black.
– The Cliff Swallow finds habitats in buildings, cliffs, under bridges and near lakes and marshes.
– Cliff Sparrows are very social birds and build their gourd-shaped mud nests near each others’… and as many as thousands of nests are common in a single location. Nests have numbered up to almost 4,000 in one location.
– During nesting season Cliff Swallows gather at mud puddles, collect mud, and carry it in their bills to their nests.
– Both the male and female Cliff Swallow helps build the nest, both incubate their 4 – 6 eggs for 14 – 16 days and both feed their babies for about 22 days after hatching.
– The Cliff Swallow makes a churrr sound.
– The Cliff Swallow will alert other Swallows that food such as an insect swarm is available. Cliff Swallows feed almost entirely on flying insects.
– Female Cliff Swallows have been known to lay eggs in another Swallow’s nest in her own colony, or even carry eggs in her bill from her own nest to the nest of another Swallow.
– Young Cliff Swallows leave their nests and congregate in groups called creches.
– Cliff Swallows migrate to and from South America in large flocks. Migration to South America generally begins in August and migration back to North America begins in early April.
– The Swallows of Capistrano are legendary for their return to the Mission.
Ah. The Cliff Swallow in real-life.
Reading the book Song of the Swallows with your kids and grandkids, with a little knowledge of the Cliff Swallow in real-life, gives you so much to discuss… and your kids so much to think about as they embrace the literature.
The story gives us a great opportunity to talk with our kids about great friendships, traditions, and the magical, mystical, mysterious lives of birds.
The Cliff Swallows are certainly among the most magical of all with their return each year to their Mission home.
Join me here each day in August for AUGUST TWEET-TWEETS on 365 Days of Literacy for Kids! A little fun, a little learning and a bit of “tweet-tweet”!