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.

Three Cliff Swallows in their nest

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…

Cliff Swallow dumping poop

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.

Cliff Swallow detritus

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!

Cliff Swallow

Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.