Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cliff Swallow

Cliff SwallowCliff Swallow, Malheur NWR, Oregon on 29 May 2010 by Greg Gillson.


Cliff Swallows are rather common throughout the Pacific Northwest, especially near water east of the Cascades. In agreement with their name they do nest in colonies on cliffs, bridges, highway overpasses, under the eaves of barns, and in smaller numbers on porches and out buildings, especially in rural settings. They are not usually found in forest habitats or urban areas.

They need water nearby, as they build their nests of mud. Those nests are gourd-shaped structures--a mud ball usually with a protruding side entrance. The bird in the photo above is collecting one bill-full of mud at a time to build its nest on a cliff near the Buena Vista Station at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in SE Oregon.

Field marks for this swallow include the compact shape with short square tail, creamy-tan rump, dark rusty throat, and pale forehead. It is the only swallow in the Pacific NW with a buffy rump. The call is rather grating.

As with all swallows, they primarily feed on insects on the wing. They often feed over water. Their bills are short, but very wide.

Cliff Swallows winter in South America. They first arrive in the Pacific Northwest by the first of April. Fall migratory flocks form in July and most birds are gone by the end of September, though some stragglers may remain, rarely to November.