Tribute to Swallows
In Memory of a Cliff Swallow
By Monique F. Rea
Oh dear Swallow, you came to my door for help.
Your parents flew from the southern hemisphere early spring to find and build their summer home.
After circling, sweeping and chattering about the clear blue sky they chose the eave.
A week of multiple trips to the creek bank and back to the stucco veneer.
Their cheeks filled with selected mud.
Thousands of small individual mud pellets were molded carefully and pressed against
each other to form earthen gourd walls.
The colony of mud nests made your home more secure.
Before even the last pellet was placed to finish off the round opening not much bigger
than their girth, your mother settled in to lay her eggs.
Two days passed, your parents shared time incubating five eggs.
Each took turns providing food for one another.
Then that joyous moment arrived fifteen days later.
First one egg began to crack.
During the night, another bill poked through the creamy white shell.
Before dawn, number five shook off the porcelain like cover.
You hatched and joined your siblings.
Your mother kept the nursery clean.
She tossed out the broken shell pieces.
Your parents foraged for a variety of bugs.
You and your siblings wrestled to position yourselves at the opening.
Your parents jabbed into your mouth tasty moths and other flying insects.
You were surrounded with a symphony of chatter and chirps including your own.
The colony alive with raising young Swallows.
A week before the twenty-first day of your birth you fell from the nest.
Neither your siblings nor your parents could carry you back to the earthen nest high
above the ground.
Landing, helped by your wing flaps.
Now separated from the clan.
You are alone, frightened and hungry.
A strange tall moving branch with articulated twigs reached down and picked you up.
Funny sounds and caresses covered you.
Voice over the phone said, “I found a young Swallow who fell from its nest. What to do?”
Then the knock on the door.
You arrived in a temporary paper nest.
Your diet changed from flying insects to a scientifically formulated food.
Jabbed into your crop with care.
Your size was worrisome.
Not as should be.
Could you make the fall migration back to the southern hemisphere?
Only a month away before the journey.
Your flight exercises prove to be less than sufficient.
Middle of September is the last migrating window.
You will wait until next Spring to greet the returning flock.
Feeding on mealworms and vitamins now.
Morning sun shines through the window warming you and your new domicile.
Your Swallow chatter is wonderful to hear.
You enjoy taking baths in the small dish of water.
Months pass. Winter has arrived.
You haven’t grown any bigger little sweet Swallow imp.
Flying is not any better.
You are as content as can be expected.
It’s mid February.
I hope that you will be able to fly out to greet the flock that’s returning.
Your health declines but still eat vigorously.
Now your eyes are covered with the protective layer.
I hold you wishing you could have greeted and joined the others this Spring.
I make you as comfortable as possible.
Today, I know you are leaving and I am very sad.
You will always be remembered Cliff Swallow.
Swallows – 8 species in 6 genera
Bahama, Bank, Barn, Cave, Cliff, Northern Rough-winged, Tree,
Cliff – buff & rust rump w/drk rust brown throat, wht spotted forehead
Northern-Rough-winged – grayish brown, light under side
The two most prevalent in San Juan Capistrano are the Cliff and Northern Rough-winged.
Past 100 to 150 years the swallows have extended their range across the North America as far as Alaska to the north and to the Eastern coast in part due to the development of bridges and buildings. They provide nesting sites.
In 1776 in Utah a Spaniard, Silvestre Velez de Escalante observed the Cliff Swallow. The Cliff Swallow was one of the first North American birds to be described.
Spring Migration: moving North from South America. First arrive in Southern California early February. Recorded on February 24, 1994 a continuous flock of swallows of 150 birds/min.
Fall Migration: generally peak time is in August and September back to So. America. There is little information of the migratory behavior.
Food: flying insects
Cliff Swallows prefer nesting in colonies but can have a single nest sight. Their tail is squared off compared to a Barn Swallow who has a distinctive forked tail (refer to my illustrations on Swallows). Numbers can range from 200-400 nests and a site in Nebraska recorded 3700. Courtship occurs soon after arrival and they visit nest sites future and/or existing. Once paired up begin next building. Both male and female help to build the mud gourd shaped nest. They gather mud in their bills along streams or new housing tracks.
A pair can bring 44 mud pellets in a 30 min period. Approx. 7 days to build a complete nest.
Number of Eggs 4-5, incubation 14 –16 days. Both parents tend to eggs and young.
The Cliff Swallow has the distinctive gourd shaped nest made of hundreds of mud pellets.