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The other swallows

September 2, 2012
Kevin Williams - Grundy County Conservation Director , Reinbeck Courier

A couple of weeks ago, I promised you a followup column on the other swallow species that we commonly find around these parts. OK, I mentioned that it could be a topic for another column and due to the fact that it's now Friday afternoon and I don't have a column ready for submission to the papers, I have chosen swallows to write about.

If you recall, I had written about the barn swallows that had nested on our front porch. I am happy to report (and my wife is even happier to report) that the young birds fledged from their nest on the twentieth of August. If things go well, they'll join their parents and become part of a large flock of migrating swallows in another week or so.

There are several other members of the swallow family that have been busy raising offspring this summer near my home. These are cliff swallows, bank swallows and tree swallows.

A few years ago, I was excited to discover a colony of cliff swallows nesting just a stone's throw from my yard under the road bridge that had recently been replaced. The concrete abutments provided the perfect location for their nests. Cliff swallows are very similar to barn swallows but lack the deeply forked tails. Like barn swallows, they glue mud nests to sheltered walls underneath the bridge, but the cliff swallow nests are completely enclosed like a gourd while the barn swallows' is an open cup.

Many years ago, I mounted a bluebird nest box on a post at the edge of my yard. I have had bluebirds utilize it from time to time, but more often it has been used by lovely iridescent green-backed tree swallows. They love to fly over the open prairies and water as they feed and like bluebirds, they will tolerate me opening the box and sneaking a peak. Their nests are lined with beautiful soft feathers, not their feathers, but anything that they can find out there. I have discovered everything from cardinal to wood duck feathers lining the nests.

Downstream from that bridge that I mentioned is a steep cutbank on a bend in the creek where a few bank swallows nested. Their nest holes can be seen dug into high vertical banks. I wouldn't be surprised if another swallow the rough-winged swallow, was among these nests, as well. Similar in appearance to bank swallows, they, too, nest in holes along high banks, sometimes right next to bank swallows.

The only member of the swallow family that I haven't found near my yard is the purple martin, but I can go just a few miles away and see them at the neighbors where they keep a purple martin apartment house that is diligently maintained for them.



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