Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

July 13, 2009

The Bird with Muddy Lips

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 10:29 pm

They say that an average of 1,000 mud pellets go into the construction of a typical cliff swallow nest. Each mud ball represents a double trip to and from a moist puddled collection spot and each is put into place according to an instinctive plan. The building material is carefully selected – not just any old mud, but  mud composed of silty clay and sand. The building site must be a protected overhang safe from the elements.  The combined marriage of this effort, selection, and instinctive sense of structure is a gourd shaped masterpiece – an inverted urn with a gracefully curved neck. Not only is the nest artistically pleasing, but it is also structurally strong. I believe it’s safe to say that the cliff swallow nest is the most remarkable avian nest in North America (see above & here). Even the dangling nest of the Baltimore Oriole comes in second to this one.

In the days prior to European settlement, these birds were content with making their nests under overhanging cliff ledges. Because of this preference they were restricted primarily to the Western canyon country. Eventually human-made porches and concrete bridge abutments, which imitated these natural conditions, slowly lured them eastward. As a consequence,  these birds and their unique nests are now found throughout the country. Finding a colony can be a challenge, however, since they are usually located in fairly inaccessible locations.

The Manufacturer’s Marketplace in Monroe is one such choice location for a small cluster of these birds. I’m fairly sure the store owners don’t especially appreciate this fact since the sidewalk exhibits an ample amount of whitewash due to the overhead activity. But the viewing opportunity could be considered a public draw. After-all, these are the same species which annually draw visitors to watch the mid-March return of the swallows to the mission at San Juan Capistrano.

An attentive adult was in the process of feeding one of her young as I approached (see above). Cliff swallows provide a valuable service as bug zappers – especially when they have to keep up with the feeding demands of 4 or 5 younguns.  The nestlings peered out from the neck of their bottle home while they waited between parental visits (see below).

Adjacent to this nest another bird was in the process of nest-building.  These are highly colonial birds and one nest will inspire the construction of dozens more. Some colonies can reach suburban proportions if circumstances allow. A single light structure here at the mall can only support a ring of six or more nests. This bird (see here) was still in the basic foundation stage of building the second addition to this micro neighborhood. Interrupted by my presence, the creature paused to smile for the camera with a mouthful of mud (see below).  There is a glimmer of artistic pride in that muddy-lipped mugshot.

1 Comment »

  1. Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you writing this
    post and the rest of the website is very good.

    Comment by — May 30, 2014 @ 2:58 am

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