These slender, sleek birds are well known for their long migration and nesting habits. Cliff and barn Swallows spend their winters in South America and summers in North America. They arrive around March in the southern part of the country, reaching the northern states in April. They are very territorial and will always come back to the same nesting site. These Swallows have made a very successful switch from cliffs and caves to man made structures for placement of their mud pellet nests. Increased insect populations from modern agriculture and shelter created by man made structures are two reasons given for this transition. Unfortunately, this success has often been at the expense of a frustrated homeowner. The Swallow now faces strong competition from the introduced house sparrow for food and shelter. This may be why their numbers appear to be dwindling. Swallows are a protected species and their arrival is a sign of spring for many. The return of the swallows to San Juan Capistrano in California is a well-noted annual festival.
Cliff Swallows and barn Swallows both have brownish red faces and throats plus a steel blue coat and a light colored belly. Squared off tails identify Cliff Swallows (pictured) while barn swallows have deep forked tails. Juveniles have similar coloring but a duller finish.
Swallows can be a nuisance in suburban areas due to their nesting habits. The mud nests damage and deface the outer walls and eaves of residences and office buildings. Building sides often end up smeared with feces from the bird colony along with collecting on the ground. Homeowners have also reported problems with parasites entering the house through building cracks next to the nests which poses a potential health risk to humans and animals.
All Swallows enjoy special protection under the law. You cannot disturb them once they lay their egg in the nest. The only way to eliminate cliff and barn Swallow problems is to take down the nests in the winter after they are gone and exclude them from returning by using 3/4" StealthNet. The netting needs to be angled across the eaves to prevent access to any sharp building angles. Several strands of Birdwire can also be run under eaves in strategic patterns at angles to prevent nest build up as well. BirdSlide can be inverted unde eaves to prevent nest building.
They build elaborate nests out of mud pellets. They look for sites near a river with dirt embankments. Both cliff and barn Swallows pack mud pellets in the upper eaves of a building. The resulting nest will resemble a wine carafe or flask with the opening on the side. They line the nest with grass and feathers. Nests are packed together in close knit colonies. The colonies range in size from a few to several thousand.
Cliff and Barn Swallows have two broods per year with each brood containing four to five eggs. Egg coloration will be white, cream or pale pink with brown spots on some of the eggs. The eggs take 12 to 14 days to hatch. Fledglings leave the nest after 25 days.
They migrate each year between North and South America. They winter in South America and summer in North America.