Being upstate is great. Not only do I get to see my folks, swim in their pool, and enjoy the great outdoors, but I also get tips about the locations of cool birds. But I really shouldn’t have needed a tip to know the location of the Cliff Swallows I’ve checked out a couple of times since I’ve been upstate: they are nesting on the elementary school I attended (and apparently have nested every year since before I was a student there). Both my older sister and younger brother recall the birds when they were students but somehow I have no recollection of them whatsoever.
The three nests above and several others are all over the main entrance of the school, meaning the birds are quite used to people passing by (any bird that can handle the presence of hordes of screaming children will barely blink at a single photographer). The nests, carefully constructed of the fruits of hundreds of trips to muddy areas, are built by the swallows, which, of course, lack opposable thumbs. They have to use their mouths! Would you be willing or able to build your house of mud (or anything else) if you had to carry all of the building supplies in your mouth? Didn’t think so. The insides of the nests are lined with plant material to cushion the eggs, and from the excited sounds of baby birds that burst from the nests whenever an adult flew in it was evident that the mud and plant nests worked rather well this year! But it isn’t just nest material that the parents have to use their mouths for…
To keep the nest clean the parents also dump their youngs’ fecal sacs. Now that is dedication! Unlike other birds, however, the Cliff Swallows did not seem concerned about carrying the fecal sacs away from the nest, a trait that they must not need considering the inaccessability of their domiciles (most birds scatter their youngs’ fecal sacs far from the nest so as not to give away the nest’s location). Unfortunately for the school, this means that the area under the nest is a bit short of pleasant.
The birds were a joy to watch and seem to be doing well, going by the number of nests. Here’s hoping they nest for the next twenty years and beyond!
those nests are creepy. they remind me of hornets’ nests.
I enjoy watching cliff swallows. Last year in June I had the opportunity to watch a large colony (many nests together) of cliff swallows (Palo Alto Baylands) tending to their “youngsters.” Mama (& possibly papa) were very busy flying all around and returning to the nest to feed their babes. It was a lot of fun to watch them.
@Pam: Little-known fact: Cliff Swallows have stingers and pack a meaner sting than hornets! 🙂
@Mary: They are a joy to watch, aren’t they?