Swallows playing in the mud

Barn and Cliff Swallows were swarming on the beach at lake Temescal in Oakland, CA today.  Apparently there was a particularly good site on the beach for collecting the type of mud used for nest construction.

A Cliff Swallow loading up with a mouthful of lake mud

A Cliff Swallow loading up with a mouthful of lake mud

Cliff Swallows once nested on the steep cliff faces of rocky canyons and river valleys, but more recently have taken up residence on the walls of buildings where a colony may construct a huge dormitory of adjoining mud nests.  These are the famous “swallows of Capistrano” that fly 6000 miles north each year from Argentina to the mission at San Juan Capistrano about the third week of March (usually on St. Joseph’s day, March 19) and leave again to fly south for the winter on roughly the same date in October.

A half dozen swallows converged on one spot to harvest the best mud.

A half dozen swallows converged on one spot to harvest the best mud.  There was a great deal of conversation, fluttering, and general flying about before landing in just the right spot.  Swallows often communicate information about food resources to one another, and apparently they talk about the best mud as well.

Barn Swallows also participated in the mud gathering, but a couple of them took time out to impress a lady swallow.

Barn Swallows also participated in the mud gathering, but a couple of the orange-breasted males took time out to impress each other with some of their agility moves.

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A little dance and flap…

Here is another bird performing a gentlemanly bow.

And then a deep bow…too bad there it wasn’t a female enjoying the show here.  Males usually have darker orange breast feathers than the females, and their outer tail feathers become quite elongate leading to a longer fork, which apparently is quite attractive to females.  You can just barely see the thin trailing spikes extending from this male’s tail.

Barn Swallows once nested in caves (or in barns), but now build their mud nests on a variety of human structures, like the housings for lights in a tunnel underpass.  This species is one of the most widely distributed in the world, migrating from the southern hemisphere where is overwinters to breed in the northern hemisphere each year.

We found this Violet-green Swallow on the ground near the lake.  It must have stunned itself flying into a window, but seemed to be in the process of recovering as my husband held it in his hand.

We found this Violet-green Swallow on the ground near the lake. It must have stunned itself flying into a window, but seemed to be in the process of recovering as my husband held it in his hand.

Violet-green Swallows are a western species, and closely related to Tree Swallows which they resemble in body form and habits.  Like Tree Swallows they utilize nest holes in trees, which they line with grass and feathers and prefer more open areas near woods for foraging.

8 thoughts on “Swallows playing in the mud

  1. I really like your shots of the swallows playing (and working a little) on the shore. I am amazed by the wonderful colors of the swallow in the last shot. I think that we have only tree swallows and barn swallows. Recently the tree swallows have been very active.

    • Thanks, Mike. You might have cliff swallows there, as they have extended their breeding range south into the Carolina’s. I’ve never seen a violet-green swallow this close before and was amazed at the range of color in their plumage.

  2. Do you remember that Dr. Hardy called them “violent green swallows”? For some reason that has stuck in my head, all these years. I hope the little bird recovered…

  3. Awesome! I’ve never seen them diving into the mud but I assume they did so to get all that mud to build their nests. I monitor a nest in a pavilion for Project Nestwatch every year. Makes me wonder if it’s the same birds or maybe their offspring. Barn Swallows haven’t returned yet to the Chicago area, probably a few more weeks.

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