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On Their Way!

SWNM Audubon’s Cliff Swallow (CLSW) monitoring project on the Western New Mexico University campus is documenting the breeding success of these birds. For the several years, trained volunteers have observed and recorded the breeding biology of returning Cliff Swallows to estimate the number of young fledged from nests located on campus buildings.

We encourage volunteers for this important project, and you don’t need to be an experienced birder to participate. If you are interested in adopting a building either on or off campus, please contact Carol Ann Fugagli: cfugagli@gmail.com


As you read this article, Cliff Swallows are migrating from their wintering grounds in South America, flying over the Central America isthmus, past Mexico, with some of them finally arriving in the Silver City area around the first part of April. Beginning in early February, they generally start their migration route north, flying diurnally (during the day), in large groups of several hundred, foraging as they move and sleeping near swamps.

This summer, volunteers from SWNM Audubon will continue observing these birds, as they have done for the past three seasons, monitoring their nests to determine how many young fledge.  Many of the swallow nests are built on buildings located on the campus of Western New Mexico University (WNMU), and some nests are found off campus in the Silver City area. Cliff Swallows prefer building their nests on structures that have a stucco exterior, since it’s easier to grip with their small claws.

During the 2020 breeding season, a total of 480 young Cliff Swallows were estimated to have fledged from nests located on WNMU campus which was an increase from 404 and 401 fledged from the previous two years of 2018 and 2019 respectively.  30 nests were found on buildings around Silver City with 60 birds fledging from these sites.  Each nest has an average of two chicks, and this number is used to determine the total number fledged for the season.  To name some buildings off campus you can find swallows nesting are: Walgreens, Grant Country Community Foundation, Washington Federal Bank, Stout Elementary, Methodist Church and the underpass on Mississippi Street.

The introduced House Sparrow is a problem with cavity nesting birds because the sparrows are aggressive and actively take over nests that other species have built, even ejecting the eggs and nestlings of the native species. We documented 25 dead Cliff Swallow nestlings on the ground that House Sparrows tossed out to take up residency.

Swallows are . . .

one of the many bird species that include Silver City and our region in their travels. The Tree and Bank swallows migrate through here on their journey northward. Cliff, Barn, Violet–green, and Northern rough-winged swallows reside with us throughout the summer to nest and raise their families. These swallows rely on insects for 99% of their food.

Barn, Cave and Cliff swallows all build their nests from mud. Cliff swallows build their gourd-shaped mud nests in colonies. Each nest has an opening just large enough for the bird to enter and exit. Barn and Cave swallows’ nests are bowl-shaped and only partially enclosed.

The mud that swallows need for building material is found where springs and seeps bubble up from the ground or at the edges of earthen cattle tanks, ponds or stream banks. Despite our dry climate, we do have mud available for swallows to construct their nests. The birds carry tiny pellets of mud in their beaks and form them into the correct shape. It can take 11,000 mud pellets to construct one nest! From three to five eggs are laid and are incubated for 20-26 days, requiring a lot of energy from the parent birds working together to tend and feed the young. From the start of nest building to departure of the young (fledglings) takes from 44-58 days, depending on weather and food availability.

Hard Working Hunters
Each day, a swallow can consume 60 insects per hour. Insect control is a valuable service that swallows provide to people. In our area, the mosquitoes the swallows eat can transmit diseases, such as West Nile Virus, which are harmful to humans.

Swallow Protection
Swallows are a protected species under federal law. It is illegal to remove nests that birds are occupying. If a nest is destroyed, the swallows must find a new site, which can be very hard. Destruction of nests directly hurts swallow populations and thus is a danger to the species’ ability to thrive.

Swallows Do Not Harm People or Buildings
Although bird droppings can be viewed as a nuisance, there is no evidence that swallow droppings in our region carry any disease that affects people. Mud nests do not damage most building materials, despite statements to the contrary from some commercial sources that sell bird repellents. Sometimes swallows are attracted to places inconvenient for people, such as above the doorway of a public building. Installing “swallow guards” above the doorway can prevent nesting in these areas. Mesh netting or lengths of plastic or metal spikes can deter nest building.

Southwestern New Mexico Audubon Society is a chapter of National Audubon Society, Inc. and prepared this fact sheet. Barn swallow photo (front) by Elroy Limmer, all other photos are in the public domain attributable through Creative Commons.

[ Swallow Neighbors Fact Sheet → PDF ]
Swallow Observation Data Form & Map → PDF ]

B3 = Bird, Butterfly and Bee Friendly!

It’s easy to not harm swallows and other birds, as well as insect pollinators such as butterflies and bees! Simply avoid using pesticides and harsh cleaning products, like bleach, anywhere outside of your house. Pesticides include all types of insect control (insecticide), rodent control (rodenticide) and weed control (herbicide) products. Stick to mild biodegradable soaps for outdoor cleaning of lawn furniture, etc. Make your own safe insecticides:

Limit or Eliminate Use of Pesticides
Safer insecticides are less toxic than commercial pesticides
(Direct contact with butterflies or bees is lethal)

 Home Made Plant Spray Recipes 

  1. 1.5 tsp mild soap in a qt of water
  2. 1 tbl mild soap in 1 cup vegetable oil.
  3. Mix, dilute 2 tsp per qt of water
  4. Add 1 tbl Chili powder to either of above
  5. Add pureed then filtered garlic in water

Or, try commercially-available less toxic insecticides; Neem oil, Diatomaceous Earth, and Safer®Brand products.

More Info: 40+ Amazing Diatomaceous Earth Uses For Health, Home And Garden → tipsbulletin.com/diatomaceous-earth

Make your own herbicides, less toxic than Round-up or other weed killers (but don’t get it on desirable plants)

  1. Salt spray: 1 part salt dissolved in 3-8 parts hot water with a drop of mild soap         
  2. Boiling water: poured directly on the undesired plant
  3. Borax Spray:  1 tbl 20 Mule Team borax in 2 cups water

Bird, Butterfly and Bee Friendly Day

Mayor Ladner presents the proclamation at a Town of Silver City Council meeting declaring Saturday April 21 as Bird, Butterfly and Bee Friendly Silver City Day.