Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Ben Bailey

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the cliff swallow.
The cliff swallow travels over 6,000 miles from southern South America to breed here. It’s return to the historic mission of San Juan Capistrano in California is celebrated yearly there with a festival on St. Joseph’s Day in March. Six swallow species are common summer visitors to Pagosa Springs. It takes a trained eye to differentiate these bug zappers in flight as they dip and dive at 30 mph catching insects on the wing. If you spot a perched cliff swallow, you will see a colorful, small-headed bird with a metallic dark-blue back and head, pale rump and brick-red face with a white forehead patch.
These swallows are colony nesters and from 200 to 1,000 nests in one location is not uncommon. They return to the same sites year after year. Both sexes contribute to nest building by carrying balls of mud in their beaks to construct a gourd-shaped nest with an entry hole near the bottom. Each nest is comprised of between 900 and 1,200 mud pellets.
Another swallow that is familiar here is the barn swallow. This swallow also builds nests of mud, but theirs are cup-shaped and open at the top. Although cliff swallows can still be found nesting on vertical cliffs, they have adapted well to human presence by nesting under bridges, in culverts and on buildings.
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