We have entered the micro-season of “The Swallows Arrive.” This is the first micro-season of the mini-season of Clear and Bright. All the micro-seasons within Clear and Bright are:
- The Swallows Arrive (Apr 04 – Apr 08)
- Geese Fly North (Apr 09 – Apr 13)
- The First Rainbow Appears (Apr 14 – Apr 19)
The 72 micro-seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibukawa Shunkai. While they are specific to Japan, they can be useful to people all over the world. No matter where you live, you can use these seasons as a starting point for your own exploration of the natural world.
To celebrate this season, we will learn about swallows and barn swallow migration. Then we will read seasonal haiku by Basho, Buson, Shiki, Issa, and Reichhold.
In this season we are welcoming the return of the swallows from their winter residents. This is the opposite of the micro-season of “The Swallows Leave” (Sep 17 – Sep 21) where the swallows migrate toward their winter homes.
About The Swallow
The term “swallow” refers to birds that are in the Hirundinidae family within the order of Passeriformes. There are 86 different species of swallows worldwide.(1)
Swallows are small birds “with pointed narrow wings, short bills, and small weak feet.”(2) Many swallows have forked tails with plain, metallic blue, or green, plumage. Swallows spend most of their time in the air hunting insects for food. Swallows can nest in tree cavities, burrow into sandbanks, or make mud nests in man-made structures and will lay between 3 and 7 eggs per clutch.(2)
Eight species of swallows are commonly found in the United States: the Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Bank Swallow, Barn Swallow, Purple Martin, Tree Swallow, Violet-green Swallow, Cliff Swallow, and Cave Swallow.(1) Of these, only the Barn Swallow is common in both North America and Japan.
About The Barn Swallow
Barn Swallows are found around the world. They have blue backs, wings, and tails. Their underparts are cinnamon-colored and they have dark red foreheads and throats. The males have bolder colors than the females.(3)
It is often easy to notice a swallow in flight because they will execute tight turns and dives while searching for insects. Swallows catch insects in midair and can be found hunting in open spaces like fields, parks, marshes, ponds, and coastal waters.
The population of Barn Swallow has been on the decline in recent years.(1,4) In North America, the Barn Swallow population has “declined by approximately 38 percent since 1970”.(1) There are several potential reasons for this decline including climate change and modern farming practices which include greater use of pesticides that eliminate many flying insects. All these factors contribute to a change in habitat that makes it difficult for the Barn Swallow to survive.
Barn Swallow Migration
Barn Swallows are long-distance migrants, meaning they travel several hundreds of miles distances between their summer and winter homes. The North American Barn Swallows spend their summers in North America and winter in Central and South America. The Barn Swallows of Japan, will winter in South East Asia, Southern Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia and return to Japan in the summer. The following map by the World Bird Society of Japan provides a visual of the migration patterns.
According to the World Kigo Database, the general term “Swallow” (tsubame) is not connected to a specific season. However, “Barn Swallow”, “Swallows in flight”, and “First swallow of the season” are spring kigo. “Migrating Swallow”, on the other hand, is considered an autumn kigo. The distinction between what would be a spring behavior and what is an autumn behavior has a lot to do with your location. For those in more tropical locations, the swallows may leave in the spring.
With this in mind, let’s read some haiku.
don’t drop your dirt into my wine cup- flock of swallows. (translated by David Landis Barnhill)
Warehouses in a row-- behind them is a road, where swallows come and go. (translated by H. G. Henderson)
soundly, soundly the plasterer sleeps - swallows (retrieved from World Kigo Database)
today they're flying in the bathhouse town... swallow swarm (translated by David G. Lanoue)
taking flight from the cloudburst... a swallow (translated by David G. Lanoue)
home again fluttering in the eaves barn swallows
from the broken bell the chatter of swallows nest building
This week’s haiku invitation is to write a haiku or senryu that references the birds in flight.
Share your haiku in the comments below, or post on your own page and link back to this post. I can’t wait to read what you write!
- Heisman, Rebecca. “Swallows of the United States”; American Bird Conservancy
- “Swallow”; Britannica
- “Barn Swallows”; All About Birds
- “Barn Swallows Observation Guide”; Wild Bird Society of Japan
- “Swallow (tsubame)”; World Kigo Database
Basho’s haiku was retrieved from Matsuo Bashō’s haiku poems in romanized Japanese with English translations. . Buson’s haiku was retrieved from “Haiku of Yosa Buson Organized by Rōmaji, in alphabetical order; translated into English, French, Spanish” Terebess Asia Online (TAO). Issa’s haiku was retrieved from David G. Lanoue’s HaikuGuy.com. Jane Reichhold’s Haiku retrieved from A Dictionary of Haiku
We used to have loads of Chimney Swifts. No more chimneys = no more Swifts.
Hi Sherry, thanks for adding this. It really is interesting to notice how interconnected everything is. The chimney swifts are another example of that. Thanks again for sharing and adding to the conversation.
Thanks Mark for sharing this wonderful post. Have a great day My Friend.
Thank Goff! Have a good day!
I haven’t seen any swallows yet, but the spring migratory songbirds have definitely arrived here – it’s wonderful to hear the variety of early morning birdsong!
I agree! I noticed my first robin the a couple of weeks ago and I heard an American Woodcock the other day. For me, that is a sure sign that the seasons are changing. Thanks for the comment!
Hi Mark. Here is my offering to this week’s reference prompt – ‘Birds in Flight’.
Just waiting for summer.
In the meantime Happy Easter My Friends.
Hi Goff, Thanks for sharing your wonderfully hopeful haiku for this week!
Thank You Mark for your kind comment. Much appreciated. Have a wonderful day My Friend.
Wonderful post, Mark. Although we have barn swallows here in No. Calif. year-round, the others migrate and return in spring. Every year for about a decade, I have recorded in my calendar the day of the first returning swallow. It was this week. So your post was not only very interesting, but very timely. I love the swallows.
Hi Jet, That is pretty amazing that this ancient Japanese calendar and your experiences in Northern California aligned. In the northeast we have a ways to go before the swallows arrive. But we do have a few spring arrivals, which is very nice to see. Thanks for the comment and I hope all is well.
Thanks again for all your info and a welcome prompt. We actually had a day last week that was up in the 80’s! So maybe I did see some swallows as we passed the farm field with cattle?
Here’s mine: Micro Poetry ‘Swallows’
What a wonderful word picture!
Yes, Issa does have a knack for creating wonderful imagery in his haiku.
a parade for
and also a 5/7/5
children dressed as birds
eager for swallows’ return
hopping up and down
The Mission of San Juan Capistrano in California (about an hour south of me) has been the spring/summer home for cliff swallows for centuries. Their return is celebrated both on March 19th (Return of the Swallows) and March 25th (Swallow Day Parade). Though it takes place a bit earlier than this Japanese micro season, this event is the USA’s most famous as it has inspired songs, books, and more including over a hundred years of celebrations.
Love the ‘ku especially the little kids hopping up and down–just makes me smile.
.In Hinckley, Ohio (about 1 1/2 hour east of me) they celebrate the turkey vultures returning on March 15th. I don’t know if they have a parade or not, but I can only imagine what that would look like. 😉
Oh my gosh, a celebration of turkey vultures makes my imagination go wild! 😂
Thanks for that, Nan.
Glad to oblige, Eavonka. Actually, I really like turkey vultures. They are the ultimate ‘reduce, recycle, reuse’ bird. 😉
I so want to see a turkey vulture parade!
Hi Eavonka, Thank for sharing about the swallow celebrations in California. I really like “a parade for” even though I didn’t originally know what Capistrano meant. Nevertheless, the haiku was written in a way that I would have looked it up if you hadn’t explained. Thanks for sharing and I hope you have a good weekend.
Always so happy to find out what you’ll teach me on Fridays, Mark!
barn swallows dip and dive
~Nancy Brady, 2023
at the feeder
~Nancy Brady, 2023
The last time I volunteered at Old Woman Creek the barn swallows were flying hither and yon in the field with the bluebird boxes, snagging insects out of the air. I suspect that many of them had snagged some of the bluebird boxes as this season’s home.
I love the energy and movement in these ‘ku, Nan, I can see it so clearly.
Thanks, E, appreciate your thoughts especially since you have become a true haiku master. rocking it.
Hi Nan, I really like “dip and dive for dinner”. The alliteration is fun to say! I so enjoy watching swallows hunting for insects over fields. The aerial maneuvers are just impressive.
Thanks Mark. They really move quickly. I love watching the swallows versus the muffleheads each summer. The muffleheads are so thick they look like smoke in the sky and the swallows just scoop them up.
and turns of surviving–
swallow in flight
Nice ‘ku, Lafcadio…they certainly twist and turn. They are such agile birds.
I love to watch them. Dip and dive is a good way to describe them as well. Thanks!
You really capture something quite special here, Laf.
I liked this too. I liked the history.
Nicely done with this one! I like subtle reference to the struggles that the swallow is having finding suitable habitats within the reference to their flight patterns. Thanks for sharing!
I really love these microseasons and the way you present them. Thank you Mark.
I look forward to these posts, Mark, and appreciate all the effort you put into them. And it doesn’t hurt that I adore swallows! Here’s my contribution:
buffet in the sky
birds skimming mouths open wide
more mosquitoes please
Tracy, this just makes me smile. As far as I am concerned, they can have all of my mosquitos.
This makes me smile, Tracy. They can have all of my mosquitos. ~nan
Hi Tracy, Thanks for the kind words! I am glad that you are enjoying the posts.
I laughed a bit reading your haiku with the last line “more mosquitoes please”. Delightful!
Have a good weekend and thanks again!
Fun! They can have all the mosquitoes that like to bite me!
“don’t drop your dirt
into my wine cup-
flock of swallows.
(translated by David Landis Barnhill) ”
Hi Cindy! That one is my favorite for this week’s selection.
Oh I’m glad great minds think alike! 💞
Great post Mark – thank you. I saw my first swallow of the season two days ago (Devon, UK) my heart is always lifted when they return to our shores. Thanks again 🙏
The return of the migrating birds always feels like a special time for me too. The seasons are slowly shifting and we are entering the time of renewal and growth! Thanks for your comment and I hope you have a good weekend.
Thanks Mark – Happy Easter!
Thanks for this fascinating post. Here’s my poem inspired by watching the swifts last summer.
Black ticks on bright blue,
swifts flung across the sky
Hi Tracey, Thanks so much for your comment and adding to the conversation.
Those swallows do look like boomerangs sometimes dont’ they!
Great post Mark, I love these little birds 💕
I am glad that you enjoyed this one! Thanks for linking up and sharing your happy haiku about spring!
Thanks Mark 🙂
Waiting for the first ones to arrive this year!
They haven’t arrived in northern Vermont yet either! I have seen many of our early migrators, but I haven’t noticed a swallow yet. Thanks for adding to the conversation!
Very lovely post, Mark, as well as the masters’ and all contributors’ haiku. I’ve always appreciated the imminent return of swallows and swifts, especially yesterday as warmer temperatures brought out the gnats and my arms were a’ flailing. Soon I’ll be not so deftly dodging them swooping in the park, as they swiftly swallow pests. I rarely note the first few arrivals, but they are SO noticeable in autumn as they flock to migrate. Huddling on the roof in cool autumn mist when I lived in the country. Now, thousands flock in and around the neighbors chimney in the city, and then silence after they leave. 🙂
Hi Mary Jo, That for sharing this great observation of the shifting seasonal activities of the other than human world! I really like your noticing how you often aren’t so aware of the arrival of the migrators, but they are really notice when they get ready to leave. I think I have that same experience with geese. I hope you have a great rest of your week!
You’re welcome, Mark. Enjoy the last half of the week. 🙂
In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, we eagerly await Hirundo: the barn swallows. (I have a long poem, but not a haiku yet, about them.) But they are usually here by now, and I’m starting to worry. We have a great barn for them with many previously inhabited nests. Any thoughts are welcome!
Hi Marjorie, Thanks for the comment. Sorry to hear that the swallows haven’t returned to their nesting spot yet. One thing that I might try to get more information about the barn swallows in my area would be to log in to inaturalist.org and see if there are other sightings in the area. Next, I might reach out to my local nature center and see what they are noticing. Good luck and I hope the swallows were just delayed a few days!