Monday, June 15, 2009

Cliff Swallows on Actual Cliffs

Monday, June 15, 2009
8 comments

One of the lifer sightings for me during the Montana portion of our trip west, was the sight of cliff swallows nesting on actual cliffs. Where I'm from the cliff swallows nest on buildings, bridges, culverts, and dams, but I'd never seen them nesting on the natural features for which they are named.

These shots were taken in and around Virgelle, Montana, where we embarked upon our three-day canoe down the Missouri River.

The truly amazing thing about cliff swallows is that they build their nests one bill-full of mud at a time. It can take them up to two weeks to build the nest—depending upon how far it is to a reliable source of mud. A pair will bring more than 1,000 small batches of mud to the nest site during construction of the nest.

Cliff swallows are colonial nesters, preferring to nest with other cliff swallows.

The colony near Virgelle had a mud source just a few hundred feet away.

The finished nests are jug-shaped and provide a perfect spot for raising up a brood of baby cliff swallows. Some of the colonies we found along the Missouri had as many as 200 nests. Larger colonies of as many as 2,000 nests can be found.

As we floated past these birds along the river, I wondered what Lewis and Clark thought about them, when they saw the first cliff swallows chattering along the muddy banks,cutting through the blue skies, and swooping up to their odd-looking nesting colonies. It must have been a remarkable thing to see.

I know it was for me.

8 comments:

On June 15, 2009 at 8:49 AM Jesse said...

I see these birds near my cottage in Prince Edward Island and they too live in the red cliffs. They are a very interesting bird. Great post!

On June 15, 2009 at 9:00 AM Rondeau Ric said...

We don't have hills, never mind cliffs.

On June 15, 2009 at 9:50 AM rmharvey said...

This reminds me of my only sighting of Rock Pigeon that seemed worth remembering. Their original habitat is alleged to be rocky cliffs, and once I saw them in that setting at Tauganock Falls, not far from Ithica NY. I assumed at the time that they nested there.

On June 15, 2009 at 7:13 PM Dave Lewis said...

Great shots. I'm hoping to someday see a Barn Swallow in a barn.

On June 16, 2009 at 9:33 AM Tucker L said...

I've seen Barn Swallows nesting on the cliffs made of sioux quarzite near Sioux Falls, SD.

On June 16, 2009 at 10:45 AM Dick said...

Thanks, Bill, you solved a puzzle for me. My wife and I were birding the Prairie Potholes region this past weekend, and encountered a swarm of cliff swallows (which I think should be re-named Underpass Swallows), and they were dipping into a small puddle with mud around it, and I didn't make the connection.

We wanted to go to the festival last week, but because my wife teaches, our schedule wouldn't allow it, but from what I heard, we had much better weather. What a great area. Found my first Baird's Sparrow, as well as Piping Plover, Hudsonian Godwit, Caspian Tern, etc. Wonderful place!

On June 18, 2009 at 7:45 AM RuthieJ said...

That is so neat!

On September 1, 2009 at 2:01 AM Cheap Hotels said...

Those birds are rarely seen. You need to look on a place where there is a cliff just for you to see them.


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