Holiday Pond  by Edith M. Patch

Sandy the Swallow

S ANDY was taking his bath in Holiday Pond. He was only about five inches long but he liked a large bathtub. He was not sitting in shallow water and shaking himself, as a bathing robin does. He was taking a flying bath and splashing into the water here and there as he went. So it was pleasant to have plenty of room.

The water felt cool and comfortable as his hot little body dipped into it. He was glad, too, to stretch his wings in flight. Now and then he caught a nourishing insect as he flew. Bathing and flying and eating rested him when he was tired and hungry.

It was rather hard work digging a cave, and that was what Sandy had been doing. It was going to be a narrow cave about three feet long when it was finished. There was a great deal of dirt to dig out, and the only scraper he had was his bill and his bill was a small one. But Sandy did not mind hard work. He liked digging. The cave was such a nice one!

Browny thought so, too. Browny was Sandy's mate, and she liked the cave as well as he did. She liked it well enough to help dig it. So while Sandy was having his recess at the pond, she scraped busily with her little closed bill, and the cave in the sand bank grew deeper bit by bit.

The sand bank was one high side of a deep gravel pit near the pond. The man who lived at Holiday Farm left that side undisturbed. He called it the "swallows' wall," and said the birds were worth more to him than the dirt in the bank.


The "Swallows' Wall" was one high side of a gravel pit near the pond. Here the birds lived in little dark caves.

There was a swamp not far away with pools where mosquitoes bred, and the swallows took a great many of their meals over there. They lunched, too, on tiny black hopping beetles that were flying toward the tomato plants in the garden or the potato field. And often they dined on some insects that would have done harm in the orchard if the birds had not eaten them.

The man of Holiday Farm was grateful for the help these swallows gave him, but he welcomed them for other reasons, too. It was pleasant to see them skimming and whirling through the air. They had no musical songs, but he liked to hear their chatter. When he was a boy he had lain for happy idle hours watching such birds busy at their caves, and he had never lost his friendly interest in them.

Before Browny had been working too long, Sandy flew back to the bank. There were about three hundred holes in the bank, for Sandy had many neighbors who had made their homes in caves. The holes looked very much alike, and Browny was nowhere in sight to tell him which one led into their cave.


There were many caves but Sandy did not lose his way. He found his own home every time.

Sandy did not lose his way, however. He found his own open door and, flying near it, he twittered a greeting to his mate. Chattering a welcome, Browny came out of the cave. The two birds talked for a moment. What they said no one but a swallow can know. They sounded as if they were giggling.

Then Browny flew away for her recess, and Sandy went to work. There was a swallow in almost every one of the three hundred neighboring caves, but each bird was too busy to talk with any one except his mate. So no one came to visit with Sandy, and he did a good bit of digging before Browny returned.

The caves in the sand bank were not all new ones. Some of them had been dug many years ago and had been in use every summer. The swallows that chose one of the old caves sometimes made it deeper, but usually there was not much to do by way of repairs except to make a fresh bed of straws and feathers at the inner end.

Although the door holes of the caves looked much alike, the caves themselves differed somewhat in shape and length. Some were only about two feet deep, and some were as much as four. Some were straight, and some turned around the corners of the stones in the bank. They all had the passageways gently sloping up from the holes. If any rain came in at the doors, the water fell and ran out again, and so the beds were kept dry.

Of course Sandy and Browny needed no straw and feather bed for themselves. But they made one, just the same, when their cave was long enough to suit them. And into that bed Browny put five pure white eggs.

The little eggs were kept warm. With a straw mattress and a feather bed under them and the downy breast of a parent bird tucked over them, there was no danger of their being chilled. Inside the white shells a wonderful growth took place. The yolks and whites of the eggs became bodies of young birds. Hour by hour, day and night, the tiny unhatched bodies grew and changed, until at last they were big and strong enough to break the shells that had held them safe and snug.

After the five baby swallows had cracked their eggshells, they cuddled close together in the nest. They wiggled and stretched and slept and, most of all, they ate.

That was a busy time for Sandy and Browny. They whirled and swept through the air. They hunted over the pond, over the meadow, over the swamp. They chased insects early and they chased them late. They brought food often to the young ones, who ate all that was given them and asked for more.

At first the young birds could not walk and Sandy and Browny brought the insects to the nest at the end of the cave. But by the time they were nearly the size of their father and mother, they came to the doorway to be fed. There was a narrow shelf of hard dirt just outside the hole. Sometimes the five youngsters sat there in a row to welcome Sandy when he came home from his hunt with his mouth full of tasty insects for them. When the parent bird left them, they hurried back into the cave out of sight.

One fine day there was a stir of excitement among the swallows. The young of Sandy and Browny were able to fly! So were the other young birds in the other caves! There were chattering and twittering and giggling sounds. The youngsters could fly, and all the swallows in the bank were going to celebrate. They were going to a picnic at Holiday Marsh.

The young birds started with fine courage, but they stopped to rest very soon. There was a telegraph wire a few rods from their bank. When they came to this, they perched on it in a row. It was just the right size to fit their little claws. They clung to it gladly. For a while it was more fun to balance there than to fly.


The young swallows rested on the telegraph wire.

So the young birds rested on the telegraph wire in a row—hundreds and hundreds of them. Their parents urged them to fly away to the picnic at Holiday Marsh, but all they did was to flutter their wings and open their mouths. That was their way of teasing for food. They were begging their fathers and mothers to give them a picnic luncheon right there on the wire.

They were only babies after all. They had really done very well to fly as far as the wire. Perhaps the old birds were pleased that they had come even so far on the way. There was only one thing to do, and the patient old birds did it. They went hunting for insects. They flew over the pond or over the meadow or over the marsh, and came back with their mouths full.

How Sandy and Browny knew which of the hundreds of young birds belonged to their family, it would be hard to say. The children who were spending the summer at Holiday Farm had come to see the birds on the wire, and they thought all the young birds in the row looked alike. But Sandy and Browny seemed to know which of the fluttering, teasing wings belonged to their babies, and they put something into each of the five open mouths. The other parent birds were as patient and busy and careful as Sandy and Browny, and in time all the young birds were fed.

Food seemed to give the youngsters courage to fly again. So off they went with their fathers and mothers, who urged them and guided them. When they reached the marsh, they perched on the slender stems of the reeds and fluttered their wings and opened their mouths.

Of course Sandy and Browny knew what that meant. But they were really very cheerful and nice. They seemed happy to have their family with them. It was pleasant and sociable to be together, and, besides, they did not need to carry the food so far. It was much easier to feed the young Sandies and Brownies on the reeds of the marsh than to make a trip to the caves every time they caught a mouthful of insects.

The day passed gayly. The sun sank low in the west behind gray and rose-pink clouds. Evening came. Holiday Marsh grew dark. The stars gleamed high overhead. Above the distant tree tops the moon came into sight—full and round and golden.

Do you think the young Sandies and Brownies were back in their cave on a hot bed of dry grass and feathers? Not at all. They were roosting on slender reeds near old Sandy and Browny. They had moved. Their night home was now among the reeds and rushes, with the marsh beneath them and the open sky above them.

In the daytime they flew where they wished, and began to hunt insects for themselves. But they did not catch enough, and every time Sandy or Browny came near them, they sat on a reed or a twig and fluttered their wings and opened their mouths.

The bank swallows were not the only swallows camping at the marsh. There were the tree swallows that had nested in hollow trees in the woods or in bird boxes at the farm. They had dark, glistening, bluish green backs and pure white breasts. There, too, were the cliff or eave swallows that had come from their clay nests under the eaves of the farm barn. They were steel-blue and chestnut-red and brown and gray and white, and each had a whitish moon on its forehead. Besides these, there were the barn swallows that had left their nests on the beams and rafters of the open sheds at the farm. They had long, forked tails and chestnut-colored throats and steel-blue backs.

When the boys and girls from the farm came to the marsh, they had a game of telling which kind of swallows they saw. They always knew a bank swallow because it was mouse-colored above and white beneath and had a mousy brown band across its breast.

One afternoon while it was still warm, sunny weather, the children went to the marsh to play. But they did not play their swallow game. There were no swallows there. They waited until evening, but the birds did not come to roost among the reeds. The marsh seemed empty and lonesome. The swallows had left for another camp. This time Sandy and Browny and the young Sandies and Brownies and all the other bank swallows went on a long journey together. They flew by day and hunted insects as they went. They sometimes rested on telegraph wires along the way, and they passed many nights among the reeds in swampy places.

They flew through Mexico and Central America and into South America. Perhaps they camped in Brazil. Perhaps they went to Peru.

This much is certain: they stayed in southern countries while it was winter in the north.

When at last it was warm in North America again the bank swallows came back to their summer haunts. Some flew as far as Arctic places. Several hundred, however, stopped when they reached the caves near Holiday Pond. Among these were Sandy and Browny.