A Richness of Swallows

cliff swallow nest

Cliff Sparrow Nest

Swallows supposedly swoop over San Juan Capistrano on March 19th of every year but, here, in the Humboldt Hills, they magically show up on the first really warm day.

Yesterday, they returned.

As part of our homeschooling, we’ll be watching them. Ours are a type of cliff swallow with square tails. They are steel blue and pale gray but flushed with buff and peach along their sides and throat. We have as many as 30 or 40 nesting pairs at a time. The collective nouns for swallows vary. My two favorites are a richness of swallows and a gulp of swallows.

These birds love the short jaunt to our pond and back to the house with the mud they use for their homes. They build these gourd shaped creations with small tunnel necks that snuggle up to each other in groups of 5 or 6. Right now there are only a scattered few but by end of summer there will be a multitude.

Last year, a fledgling fell out the nest and lay stunned on the driveway. Carefully, my littlest and I tucked him onto a hanging plant in the shade where we could watch closely from the bedroom window. Soon the little guy was being fed by what looked like at least two adults. Fascinated, we watched him on and off for hours. After two days, he flew away, coming back occasionally on the first day to rest on his plant. After that, presumably, he became part of the nesting group.

Some people claim the swallows are a source of disease but, to me, they are a source of joy. I love their calls and cheeps, their swoops and glides, but, most of all, I love how they devour mosquitoes!

I have heard of people destroying the nests to discourage the birds from building on their structures. WARNING–this is actually against the law. These little acrobats fly up from South America every year which makes them migratory birds and protected under the Migratory Bird Convention Act. This act bans the demolition of their homes. You may discourage them from beginning their nests though, with nets tacked on the overhang of your roof.

Once they are through raising their young, you may knock down their nests and wash the area with water sprayed from a hose (the birds are attracted to the old mud so removing as much as possible discourages them.) For more information see here.

Destroying their nests is not just illegal but its a crime against beauty and joy. So relax and let the little buggers do your debugging naturally.



  • “You snooze, you lose”. Darn Kym you stole my big scoop, I saw my first Swallow of the summer under the Dean Creek bridge just this morning. I checked the bridge in Benbow and they are still not there yet.

    When the first Swallows show up, I take it as a sign that we are going to have mild weather for the rest of the summer. I like to think of it as the first day of Garberville summer.

    Maybe I still have scope on you though, I saw my first Osprey today in Weott. Have you seen an Osprey yet? I’ve seen them as early as the end of march before.

  • I have a large 2ft x4ft fluorecent fixture under the eave’s of my house under the gable end, about twelve feet over the deck. I have a collony of bats that live above it. they don’t harm anything, and I think of them as my “Skeeter Eaters”.

  • Ernie, The ospreys seem to live in the river valleys. At least, that is the only place I see them–which makes sense since they are fish eaters. And, no, I haven’t seen one since early last summer and then only one!

    I don’t mind a mild spring but I hope it is a bit wetter or it is going to be a long dry summer.

    We have a bat house that is really handsome that a friend made us. I can’t get my husband to put it up for me though. I’m just going to have to do it myself. I remember the twilight hours when I was a kid lying on my back with my best friend Kenny Zigler and watching the bats scooping mosquitoes out of the air.

  • In Japan swallow nests are considered a blessing for a household. They make little wooden platforms for the nests. In the long ago days when I fished the river, I would head home when the bats replaced the swallows over the water.

  • I must have been Japanese in a former life then. Just watching them surf the air makes me feel at peace with the world!

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