Cliff Swallow Monitoring Project Update: Join us via Zoom on Friday, June 3, 2022 for an update on this project and in person on Saturday, June 4, 2022 to see the swallows in action!
See our Events page for details!
Cliff Swallow Monitoring Project
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: email@example.com
Planning for the Unexpected – 2021 Breeding Season Report
Life is unpredictable. Whether you’re a human, a beetle, a shrew, or a bird, there are erratic occurrences that can drastically alter one’s life. In the scientific realm, these are called stochastic events and in the negative sense, they can occur when multiple stressors come together to create the perfect storm of disaster and die-offs. One such event occurred in the fall of 2020, when a cold front and extreme wildfires in the west pushed migratory birds to the brink and were killed by the hundreds of thousands and possibly upwards to one million individuals. The exact count will never be known. Stochastic events of this magnitude can have lasting repercussions for years or even decades for a species to recover if they ever do recover. It’s these extreme, unexpected events that we need to expect more frequently in days ahead with climate change. But there is good news too, and the Cliff Swallows in our area is one example.
The 2021 breeding season for the Cliff Swallows on WNMU campus was an outstanding season, hitting record numbers of successful nests since monitoring began in 2017.
We had a whopping final count of 344 successful nests that fledged an approximate 688 total young. We estimate two birds fledge from each nest based on our observations and the most recent research.
The season began slowly, with birds arriving later than the usual mid-April time frame.
But when they finally did arrive the third week of May, they were laser focused on finding mud to build their nests and begin the breeding process.
Dedicated volunteers from Aldo Leopold High School eco-monitoring crew, Southwestern New Mexico Audubon Society, and from the community, once again monitored the Cliff Swallow nests on WNMU campus and other locations around Silver City.
Observations were recorded on data sheets once per week or more frequently as the individual’s time allowed. Students from Aldo Leopold middle school designed two Cliff Swallow sticker designs and were modified by high school students. These stickers are now available to anyone.
People who were new to bird monitoring now have one season under their belt and enjoyed the process of learning. First time volunteer Suzanne Gershenson commented at the end of the season “Volunteering with the Cliff Swallow Research Project during 2021 was fun and meaningful. I had always enjoyed watching the swallows during walks through the University, but it was especially interesting to notice and record activities like nest building, new hatchlings and interactions with other swallows as well as other bird species. As a result, I felt much more connected to all the birds in my neighborhood and appreciative that WNMU supports this kind of research project.”.
The breeding season for Cliff Swallows in our area is generally from April 15 — August 15. This coincides beautifully when most students are away from WNMU campus for the summer months. Once the monsoon rains begin, it conveniently washes away any fecal matter on the sidewalks.
After the swallows complete their breeding, they fly to South America for the winter months. Wintering records are from Argentina, Paraguay, and possibly other countries as well.
Since long-distance migration is the most extreme and life-threatening action any animal does, we need to do everything we can to assist in a successful breeding season to prepare for unexpected events.
You May Volunteer!
If you would like to volunteer with this project, please contact Carol Ann Fugagli at: firstname.lastname@example.org
No experience necessary, just an inquisitive mind!
Special thanks to Rachelle Bergmann for keeping the electronic data organized.
- Carol Ann Fugagli
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.
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.
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
- 1.5 tsp mild soap in a qt of water
- 1 tbl mild soap in 1 cup vegetable oil.
- Mix, dilute 2 tsp per qt of water
- Add 1 tbl Chili powder to either of above
- 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)
- Salt spray: 1 part salt dissolved in 3-8 parts hot water with a drop of mild soap
- Boiling water: poured directly on the undesired plant
- Borax Spray: 1 tbl 20 Mule Team borax in 2 cups water