H is for Hirundo neoxena – Welcome swallows, and their other little Hirund* friends #MelaleucaMiscellany


“Let’s fledge, you said… there’ll be heaps of insects, you said….everyone else is doing it, you said.”   Two baby welcome swallows appear to regret their decision to fly the nest the day before the weather collapsed.

The welcome swallows of Melaleuca take their welcoming duties very seriously.  So seriously, that they nest in the Trodel Hut, right next to the airstrip at Melaleuca, so they’re always on hand to greet new arrivals, and if they’re lucky, poo on their backpacks.  These summer migrants brooded two clutches of babies in their muddy little nests, and some of those babies decided to fledge while we were still there.

A couple left the nest a day or two before their siblings, and appeared to immediately regret having done so.  They spent a lot of time sitting on that beam pictured above, apparently trying to work out how to get back into the cosy space that had until recently been their home.

Further up the hill towards the bushwalkers huts, the tree martins (Hirundo nigricans) took advantage of higher-class real estate openings, which became available once the orange-bellied parrots vacated their specially built nesting boxes.  It took less than 24 hours after OBP fledging for a family of martins to measure up, upgrade and move into one of the nest boxes outside the rangers’ hut – they are paragons of avian efficiency.

Another Hirund* observed but briefly at Melaleuca were a mob of white-throated needletails (Hirundapaus caudacutus).  Being a bit of a bird duffer, I’d never seen these uncommon migrants before, until a squadron of them appeared practicing their aerial manoeuvres over the Fenton-King residence.  There were actual serious ecologists staying in the bushwalkers’ huts that night, so Qug and I raced inside to check that yes, they were really white-throated needletails, which the ecologists confirmed with some amusement as we raced back out the door.

Dave Watts describes these birds as “large, strong and powerful”, which seemed a fair thing, but I prefer Penny’s description, of them being like aerial tuna – strong, streamlined and built for speed.  As they swept by overhead, you could hear, and almost feel, the beat of the feathered bellows of their wings.  I described them like this to a friend earlier this evening, who said they sounded quite scary.

“Oh no!” I said, “They wouldn’t hurt a fly!” which I immediately realised was a complete lie, as flies are almost certainly the first thing they would hurt.  Their habitat is listed as “aerial”, and they are constantly taking insects, including flies, on the wing.

All of the Hirund*s are insect aficionados, scoffing vast quantities of them to keep up all that swooping and diving, although I did feel that the tree martins could try a little harder on the sandfly-eating front.  Which leads us to tomorrow’s letter – I is for Insects – so many of them!


One thought on “H is for Hirundo neoxena – Welcome swallows, and their other little Hirund* friends #MelaleucaMiscellany

  1. I was personally bitten by every sandfly at Melaleuca and given this advice, too: You think that’s itchy? Just wait until you’re back home for a week. THAT’S itchy.

    Sorry. Nothing to do with Hirunds, which don’t bite that I know of.

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