‘One swallow does not the summer make’. This famous line attributed to Aristotle evokes the gregarious barn swallow (Hirundo rustica), a familiar species in the countryside. In the Indian subcontinent, the barn swallow is a partially migratory species that breeds in the Himalayas in the summer, also crossing over to northern climes of Asia. In the difficult winter months, it makes the subcontinent its home. Recognised by its streamlined slender build, shiny dark-blue back, prominent white belly and a deep forked tail, it makes its mud nest under bridges, under the eaves of old buildings and even in the verandahs of occupied houses. It is a largely aerial species, mostly seen when it is expertly catching insects on the wing, as it flies low above fields, villages and ponds. In Kumaon, this bird is loved by the local shopkeepers and eatery-owners who allow these birds to nest and roost inside their shops. The shopkeepers do not mind the noisy squabbling of the chicks as they are fed and finally fledge and even keep their shop shutters ajar to allow the bird to fly in and out. Perhaps the bird provides the service of controlling agricultural pests which has been recognised by the people. The barn swallow provides an example of the traditional people-nature interactions in Kumaon that are responsible for much biodiversity even in the midst of human settlements.
Picture courtesy: Rajkamal Goswami.