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May’s 'Wildlife Express' takes a bird’s-eye view on swallows

| May 30, 2024 1:00 AM

Swallows, the F-16s of the bird world, are a family of birds made up of about 86 different species, six of which can be found here in Idaho during the summer. And they also happen to be the subject of May’s Wildlife Express newsletter. 

Measuring 5-7 inches in length, swallows have broad, rounded heads. Their beaks are small, but don’t let that fool you! The mouth behind that beak is large. This large mouth is the perfect tool for swallows to catch their food.

Swallows build different nests, depending on the species, these are called nesting strategies. Each gives the birds different advantages. 

Bank swallows build burrows in sandy banks along rivers or streams. These sand banks attract many bank swallows, and the birds form a nesting colony. One strategy that tree and violet-green swallows use is nesting in cavities. These can be old woodpecker nests, crevices in trees, buildings or a nest box. 

The third nesting strategy is building mud nests. Barn and cliff swallows are well-known for their interesting mud nests. Barn swallows make a mud cup that they stick to the side of buildings, bridges or cliff faces. The gourd-shaped mud nests of cliff swallows are easy to recognize. Like the nests of barn swallows, cliff swallow nests are often found on man-made structures.

As mentioned earlier, Idaho is home to six different swallows: bank swallows, barn swallows, cliff swallows, northern rough-winged swallows, tree swallows and violet-green swallows. 

Be sure to check out May’s edition of Wildlife Express if you want to delve a little deeper into the world of swallows, how they eat, build nests and how they’re depicted in different cultures. 

Wildlife Express is a monthly newsletter for elementary school-age children that teaches lessons about wildlife species and subjects. Each issue features an Idaho wildlife species and articles related to science and ecological concepts. The articles are written in an educational and entertaining fashion that gets students excited to read and learn about wildlife and their environments. 

— Idaho Department of Fish and Game