Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Cliff Swallow

I was with my daughter, Rachael, at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in northern Utah last Saturday and we saw hundreds, perhaps thousands, of migrating swallows. I've had a hard time getting photos of swallows because they fly so swiftly and erratically and never seem to stay still. So I was thrilled to see the swallows congregating together in groups (interestingly called a flight or gulp of swallows) and standing on reeds in a way that made them easy to photograph. We saw four different species of swallow, two I'd seen before: barn swallows and tree swallows; and two new species to me: cliff swallows and bank swallows. I was particularly drawn to the cliff swallows because they are so beautiful. 

Cliff swallows originally nested on mountain cliffs, usually along the coast of western North America.  But they are adaptable and as modern infrastructure such as bridges and buildings were built, they adjusted and used the infrastructure for nests and expanded their populations further east. They winter in South America, particularly southern Brazil, Uruguay and parts of Argentina. They migrate northward and breed in Mexico, the U.S. and Canada. 
Blue is where they winter; yellow is migration; and orange is where they breed and spend the summer. 
The cliff swallow is a dark brown on the back and wings, has a white forehead, rusty cheeks, a white throat, white underparts and a pale cinnamon rump. In good light the crown and mantle feathers are a metallic dark blue. Northern populations are larger than Mexican populations and the Mexican populations have a chocolate brown forehead patch instead of white. Males and females have identical plumage. 
These are the really beautiful adults. 

Juveniles have similar coloring, but with paler tones, they lack the metallic plumage and their foreheads and throats appear speckled white. 
Speckling of white on the face and neck of this juvenile. 

Other paler toned juveniles.

1 comment:

  1. These are really gorgeous birds--again, such a surprise. I also expect swallows to be less pudgy and more elongated.