Do you too enjoy the sight of the pretty barn swallows and the sound of their happy chattering, as you pedal along country roads? One moment they are soaring high up in the air, the next they are skimming low over the fields and waterways. You recognize them by their long forked tail. How the barn swallow came by this striking tail is a tragic tale of domestic violence. Listen to this old German legend:
Once there was a drunkard who spent his days in the local bar, while his kindly wife spent her days from early morning till late in the evening bent over the sewing-machine, stitching together a meagre income. Neighbours often helped her out to ease the burden of her threadbare existence. One day the drunkard came home tight as a drum again and he was furious because his wife did not put his supper on the table fast enough. In his anger he smashed up the furniture and then vented his rage on his wife. He hit her so hard that she collapsed. The man was about to start kicking her as she lay there on the floor, when the gods came to the rescue of this poor woman. Through a metamorphosis the woman was released from her suffering. The gods changed her into a svelte bird which could escape the man’s beating by flying up to a beam in the rafters of the room. Perched high up in the rafters she looked down on the ravings of the drunkard. This made him even wilder and he threw a knife up at the bird on the beam. She quickly dived away to avoid it, but the knife just caught the feathers of her tail, pinning her to the beam. In her desperate struggle to pull herself free and so evade the next attack, her tail split in two. In this way she escaped, flying through an open window and high up into the sky. To this day you can still see her flying around up there and her tail is still forked as a symbol of her freedom.
Despite the misery of her own life in human form, her love for people remained unaltered, and especially her love for the hard-working country farmers. The barn swallow is mostly to be found near farms and its favourite nesting site is a barn or shed. She is still a very hard-worker and catches insects which trouble animals and people on the farms. That is why all farmers are proud of their barn swallows: they take special care to create good nesting sites for them, also leaving the windows open in their barns. For one thing farmers know for sure: brooding barn swallows on a farm bring good luck.
The longer the tail of the male barn swallow, the more popular he is with the females. Barn swallows live in quiet rural areas near farms, places where there is an abundance of insects. They build nests in sheds, under eaves and bridges and rear two broods a year. In one summer a single family of barn swallows will devour a million preferably larger insects. From mid-April to the end of September the barn swallows is happy to fly around, diving and chirping, throughout West Europe and then migrate to mid- and west Africa for the winter months, some 8,000 kilometres away.
© Els Baars, Natuurverhalen.nl