Each mud house takes from 900 to 1200 mud pellets to build. Maybe you have witnessed these birds scooping up mud in their beaks along the banks of the Wabash. Mud pellet gathering takes a tremendous amount of air time!
Cliff swallows are lovely small birds recognizable by their squarish tails and orange rumps. They have a buffy or cinnamon colored forehead and blueish-black throat, wings and back. Their underside or belly is light. The male has whiskers around his beak. A juvenile is a grayish all over.
Image via skeeze of Pixabay. Click here to view their gallery.
Although only five inches in length, the cliff swallow’s wing span measures twelve and a half inches. What is unique about cliff swallows is that they do not beat their wings in unison but alter wing beats. Since they feed in flight, one may mistake their avian maneuvers for a bat. Sometimes they hold their wings “bowed like a crescent” to glide or sail in the air.
Because the cliff swallow feeds in flight, they are at the peril of extreme weather events. If it rains constantly for five days, a cliff swallow will die of starvation.
The little birds are able to open their mouths quite wide to catch insects. This was a banner year for them with cicadas enhancing their menu. The ability to open wide their mouths also gives the female cliff swallow opportunity to take an egg to a neighboring nest if she has laid too many. Definitely communal living!
Image via sarangib of Pixabay. Click here to view their gallery.
The cliff swallow does not have a song but a single squeaky chipping note. You will hear their chatter if you walk down under the Harmony Way bridge and look up at their nests. Be sure to keep your mouth closed!
When it is time to migrate south, cliff swallows gather in by the hundreds. They will roost along the way in large chimneys, swirling down into the chimney in a funnel formation, a sight to behold. They always migrate via Central America with their usual destination Argentina. Although they have been spotted as far south as Tierra del Fuego off the southernmost tip of South America.
Cliff swallows are federally protected by law. To destroy or remove their nests takes a special permit. A colony of cliff swallows eats enormous amounts of insects. How fortunate we are that they call the Harmony Way bridge home.
Revelation 19:17 “And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, ‘Come, gather together for the great supper of God’.”
© Ann Rains, August, 2015
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