Think of cliff swallows as social butterflies that come late to the party.
Thats because they like to hang out with others of their kind, with reports of as many as 3,500 nests in one area. And while tree, barn and violet-green swallows have started to return to Whatcom County bringing the first promise of spring with them cliff swallows arent expected back from their wintering grounds in the south end of South America until the end of this month.
Their name derives from their old haunts.
Rock cliffs were their natural habitat until humans built large structures which are, in effect, wooden cliffs to which the swallows adapted, explains Paul Woodcock, president of the North Cascades Audubon Society.
Which is why their nests, made of mud and their saliva, are found under the eaves of buildings, especially barns, he adds. Locally, many people call them eave swallows.
Good grub to them is flying insects, which is why youll find them foraging in circles in the air. Even if you dont know much about birds, youve probably heard of cliff swallows. Theyre the ones that leave in swirling masses from San Juan Capistrano.
Cliff swallows look like barn swallows but the former are plumper with a pale gray nape, dark throat, light belly and a short, square tail. Both use mud to make their nests, though the shapes are different.
The barn swallows nest is an open cup while the cliff swallows is globular and usually narrows at the top to a small round entrance, Woodcock says.
Sources: Paul Woodcock; The Sibley Guide to Birds, by David Allen Sibley; Birdweb.org
Reach Kie Relyea at email@example.com or 715-2234.