Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Swallows of Aberdeen Manor

(Apologies if the photos are a little dark and grainy, I had to take them through the front windows of the shop or the little guys would shoot off and wait for me to leave!)

For the last five or six years we have had these fabulous little birds nesting under the canopy at the front of the Manor. They are fast as lightning, and really difficult to actually see up close in order to identify them. I've had folks tell me they were Chimney Swifts, Barn Swallows, and the like. I made it my mission this year to find out exactly what these little guys were.
So, the definitive answer is (drum roll please!) they are---tan-ta-da----Cliff Swallows!
Now you say, "Huh? There are no cliffs at Aberdeen Manor!" which is true, but the overhangs over the drive up area, to them, are "man made cliffs". These are apparently very adaptable little birds that have decided to embrace man made structures such as bridges, buildings with overhangs(bingo!) and other structures that offer them the protection they need.
So this morning, while I was sitting in our screen porch, watching the goldfinches and cardinals at our feeders just outside (I feel like such an old lady to say that, but I absolutely LOVE watching the birds in my backyard! I have been trying to attract some hummingbirds, but just haven't found the right spot for the feeder yet, but that's another post!)
Here are a few facts about our little feathered friends at Aberdeen--

They only eat flying insects, so they have to migrate in order to have food throughout the year. These little 5 inch birds fly all the way to Venezuela for the winter! (Hasn't anyone told them that Florida is closer? And heaven knows they have lots of bugs there!) The swallows can't return to our area until there is an adequate food supply, so they won't come back here if there is still a danger of a frost. Consequently, once you see the swallows you know it's safe to plant those petunias! A friend of mine said that in 25 years, he has never seen a frost after the swallows have returned.

These are the same birds as the famous "Swallows of San Juan de Capistrano" in California! How cool is that!

They return to the same area every year, once they have become established, and sometimes they reuse their nest from the previous season, and will repair a broken or worn nest (the basic "handyman's special/fixerupper nest!) and then reoccupy it.

Their nest is kind of like an upside down igloo. It's made of daubs of mud, each daub carried by the birds (both the male and female of a nesting pair build the nest, aaawwww) in their mouth from a river, lake, or even a mud puddle back to the building site. Each nest can contain over a thousand daubs of mud! It only takes them a week or two to build a nest though; that's a lot of flying, and a lot of mosquitoes for energy!

They lay 2 to 6 little brown speckled eggs in their nest that take about 15 days to hatch, and then they are kept VERY busy providing food for the babies. We frequently see the swallows swooping and divebombing over the parking lot, catching bugs for themselves and their babies. Gotta love those guys!!!

This spring the swallows got back a little later, and some English Sparrows moved into their nests and took over. We could tell because they dragged a bunch of grass and the like into them. So instead of going back to the front canopy where their nests were up 14 feet in the air, now they are building a nest under the canopy to the shop, which is only about 8 feet up.

The poor little guys get scared every time someone walks in or out of the shop, and they take off and leave. Many times, I'm not sure who is more startled, the bird or the customer! They are harmless though, and they won't hurt anyone.

We have also had many people over the years come in from the big canopy in the front, in a panic, and tell us we had "hornet's nests" up under the canopy (this is usually after a couple of Carol's Cosmos, but that's another story!)

Needless to say, we are going to do all we can to encourage these little guys to stay. They keep the mosquito population down in the garden which is something we REALLY appreciate!

Next time you are at the Manor, look up! And check out these amazing little birds!

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