A Tale of Chimney Swifts

by Ann Collins

Here’s another story from the nature notebooks of Ann Collins It’s from last year.

June 19

Two chimney swifts were circling around the old well at the top of the hill. I saw them often, two together. When disturbed by the mule, one would fly out of the well.

Chimney swifts are good at clinging to walls (photo from Cornell Labs)

June 22

I looked in the well and saw a nest with three white eggs in it. I felt sad, because I was afraid they would hatch then fall out and drown in the nasty water below.

July 8

The eggs finally hatched. There were three naked, pink babies with huge grey eye spots still covered with skin. They looked so vulnerable. My fears increased, because I remember years ago seeing a black runner snake in the well.

I had no way to keep them safe and could only hope for the best.

Mama was usually on the nest, too, covering them as best she could. If I disturbed her she would noisily fly to the side of the well and clasp to the concrete.

July 13

Only two fledglings are left in the nest. Mama is gone, foraging I hope. The babies now have feathers but are still in the nest. One of them looked to be backing our of the nest. Horrors! It’s going to fall right out! But, no. It was merely pooping over the side of the nest. Quite tidy and sanitary.

July 21

The babies have continually grown and feathered. Both are out of the nest, plastered to the side of the well cove.

July 28

I checked on the babies this morning and there is only one left, on the side of the well. I noticed a lot of movement in the water deep in the well and thought it might be a baby trying to get back on the wall.

NO! There was a gargantuan snake circling around and attempting to get some leverage and climb back out of the well. Oh, no you don’t!

Normally, I don’t kill snakes, but this one had to go. I haven’t spent all this time observing the babies’ progress to see this last survivor gobbled up as a snack for this snake!

Milam County has some really big rat snakes. They like eggs. Luckily, Ann’s hens are well protected.

I kind of felt sorry for the snake, too. It’s just nature taking its course. And it really was big, very big! I thought the head was large and basically triangular, but it was too far down for any ID.

So, I did what any foster parent would do, I hired a gun to shoot it (really just my son Anthony with a 22). I made him shoot is three times, just to make sure. He was going, “Mom…I got it the first shot!” I think he was just trying not to use too many bullets.

I’ve asked around to see if anyone has a hook of some sort so we can retrieve the snake for a positive ID, but so far, no luck. Christopher said he had once seen a hog in the well. It’s really low but not dry; I’ve never seen it dry.

July 29

The snake has been identified as a western rat snake. A guy from Austin (via iNaturalist) offered to come rescue it. Too late, though I’d have loved to have him come and get that monster.

I found another rat snake over near the 344 gate. It was much smaller. Of course, he lived to see another day.

August 2

I checked the well about 8:30 am. The baby is still clasping the side of the well. At 10:30 am, there were two chimney swifts flying over the clearing on the hill. I looked in the well again and there was no baby! It’s flying free with Mama. One out of three survived to the fledgling stage!

I can only hope for a nest next year.

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