Last weekend, I watched a group of swallows dive and wheel over the Huyler House pond, occasionally swooping in for a snack in the water. (Click here to see a quick video). They were tiny, almost bat-sized, and I have no idea what they were scooping up. We’ve seen this before, and my hypothesis is that we have a group of migrating cliff swallows who are passing through. They were hard to identify because they were moving so fast, but they seemed to have hood-like chestnut markings, a whitish belly, and blunt tails. (this photo sort of freezes the action.)
Cliff swallows are the famous swallows that “return to Capistrano,” and migrate long distances. They don’t nest in our area, but they may parade through on their way south; some headed to Argentina. Birds of North America says that they are “the most social landbirds,” because they nest in large colonies. They have been pushed out of some nesting areas by the aggressive house sparrow, but they are also aggressive themselves, pushing eggs of other species out of nests to make room for their own eggs. (According to Wikipedia, the swallows don’t actually return to Capistrano anymore; rather, they nest further north, in the eaves of a country club.)
I’m pretty sure that I have correctly identified them, but I’d love some visual confirmation if anyone else has identified these birds.
National Wildlife just published an article yesterday on Bird Migration, (click here to read) and why shorebirds that rest in the marshes of the Gulf of Mexico may be imperiled by oil.
And here is a link to an interesting article in the New York Times last May about what scientists are learning about bird migration using geo-locators as small as a grain of rice. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/25/science/25migrate.html?partner=rss&emc=rss It describes birds who migrate thousands of miles.