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Meet a Cliff Swallow August 10, 2010

Posted by Wapello Warbler in Birds, Louisa County, Nature.
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Cliff Swallow

The best place to see Cliff Swallows is at the bridge east of Wapello. Scores of the birds live in mud nests under the bridge. When I need a break from office work, I love to walk down to the river near the bridge and watch them. Often they are zooming about catching insects, but sometimes I’ll see them racing about in groups of 20 or 30, flying figure eight patterns. They seem to be flying just for the sheer joy of it.

The best place to photograph a Cliff Swallow is along a gravel road on a hot day. There you can find them sitting on wires. If you stop a hundred feet away with a zoom lens you can get some reasonable pictures.

Cliff Swallows build their nests on vertical surfaces that have a roof over them. They often build near water and it’s not unusual to find them under bridges. I was surprised to find large flocks near farmsteads surrounded by corn fields, but a more careful reading of my field guide indicates it’s not that unusual.

You can separate adult Cliff Swallows from the others by the white bill on their caps. In flight look for their chestnut (reddish) beards, blond chests and white bellies. When they fly low over the water you’ll see they have blond rumps. Their upper backs are deep blue/purple. Their ends of their tails are square for a swallow. With a little practice they’re easy to pick out in flight.

You can read more about Cliff Swallows and the way the whole flock cooperates to locate food and rear their young at the Cornell Labs web site.

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