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Wilderness Starts Here!

If you would like to join the Cliff Swallow monitoring team or have questions, please contact Carol Ann Fugagli at: cfugagli@gmail.com

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 past two 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.

Cliff Swallows begin to arrive in early April. These colonial birds migrate in large groups, taking just a couple of weeks before several hundred arrive after their arduous journey from various countries in South America. Over the next three months, the swallows industriously build their artistic nests from little mud balls gathered from small muddy pools, usually from around leaking irrigation spigots or remaining puddles from late winter rains. Eggs are laid, incubated, and young are fed insects until mature enough to leave the nest and forage on their own.

The monitoring team usually works in pairs and adopts a particular building or area to focus their weekly observations. Volunteer Susan Slade declared, “It was so interesting to see the changes each time I visited the nests! These birds are amazing!” No experience is necessary, and we embrace an ‘on the job’ training approach. A new volunteer will team up with an experienced observer to ensure consistent data. Current team volunteers are: Rachelle Bergman, Lisa Fields, Carol Ann Fugagli, Elroy Limmer, Ken Sexton, Susan Slade, Patricia Taber. If you would like to join the CLSW monitoring team or have questions, please contact Carol Ann Fugagli at: cfugagli@gmail.com

The CLSW monitoring team launched a 5-year campaign called ‘Wilderness Starts Here’ referring to the fact that wilderness begins right outside our doorstep whether it’s our home or a building on campus. Stay tuned for our outreach in our community about the benefits of swallows! These birds eat many mosquitoes and other small insects as well as gifting us with stunning aerial acrobatics and graceful beauty. We view their presence as welcome, and a true blessing. Through education and nest monitoring, we believe attitudes can become positive, and these beautiful, small, feathered companions will continue to return.

More details & photos → PDF

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.