Bird of the Week



Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the barn swallow.

With a worldwide distribution, breeding throughout the Northern Hemisphere and wintering across the southern, the barn swallow is the most abundant of the swallow species. Its image is found on postage stamps across the world. At least six subspecies differing in appearance are recognized, but only one of them is found in the Americas.

For breeding, this bird requires open areas to catch insects on the wing, structures to anchor a nest on and a source of mud to build the nest. Although they once nested in caves, now their nest building is done almost exclusively on human-made structures. As people settled the continent, these birds moved with them and expanded their range.

Barn swallows mix mud and grass stems to form the pellets that make up their nests. They nest on eaves, beams, rafters, porch lights, under bridges — almost any protected surface which will adhere to mud. Although they are valued for controlling insects, these birds can become pests if they choose to nest in a doorway, swooping down at anyone who approaches.

The adult barn swallow that summers here is colored cobalt blue on the back, wings and tail and has rufous-colored undersides and cinnamon coloring on the forehead and throat. Its wings are long and pointed. Long outer feathers give the tail a deep, forked look.

In the 19th century, barn swallows were among the birds hunted for the hat trade. In an editorial for a popular natural history magazine, naturalist George Bird Grinell attacked the waste and impact on bird populations caused by this industry. His leadership led to the founding of the first Audubon Society, dedicated to the protection of birds.

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