Cliff Swallows (Petrochelidon Pyrrhonota)

© Photographed April 28, 2018
Gays Mills, Crawford County, Wisconsin
43.319105, -90.850408

Cliff Swallows
(Petrochelidon Pyrrhonota)
In the spring of 2003, after the old bridge on Hwy 171 over the Kickapoo River was replaced with this new one, Cliff Swallows started breeding under the concrete structure. Cliff Swallows are one of 6 species of swallows breeding in Wisconsin. They are a highly colonial bird with a complex social life. They migrate to South America each fall and return to North America each spring, a round-trip journey of more than 16,000 miles. They winter in southern Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. Each year they leave their wintering range and head north starting in early February. They arrive in Wisconsin in May, select mates, build complex domed mud nests, lay eggs, raise their young and start the long journey south again. Remarkably all of this is usually accomplished by the end of July!

The nests are repaired or new ones built each year. The birds forage together in groups gathering the right mud to carry back to the nesting site. A pair was observed bringing 44 mud pellets in a 30 minute period. The mud is carried in their bills. These nests, originally built on vertical cliff surfaces, are now more commonly seen on the undersides of concrete bridges and culverts, and less often on buildings and cliffs. The birds seem to have learned that their nests are more secure and protected attached to the more stable concrete surfaces. 
The interiors of these enclosed gourd shaped nests keep occupants warmer in cool weather and cooler in heat. There is considerable variation in the mud's composition and strength from colony to colony. Some nests last for 11 years and some don't make it through one season without falling apart.

These beautiful little birds, which weigh little more than one half ounce, eat, drink, and bathe, entirely in flight. Bathing in flight involves a quick hard splash in the water and flying on. They eat swarming insects. Many of these are farm crop pests such as corn borer moths and grasshoppers, and they also eat mosquitoes and many other kinds of insects.

To learn more, please visit The Museum of the Kickapoo. Open weekends from 10 to 4, July through October.

Thanks to Dr. Charles Brown, Tulsa OK, Village of Gays Mills, WI, and Community Conservation Inc., Gays Mills, WI
The marker is located at Robb Park, on the east bank of the Kickapoo River, and is accessible from westbound Main Street / Wisconsin Highway 177, at its intersection with the Kickapoo River, at or near 500 Main Street, Gays Mills, Wisconsin 54631.

Kickapoo River Museum

With the Kickapoo River in the distance and
the Kickapoo River Museum visible to the right.


The marker is located in Robb Park, just behind this sign.


The marker is located in Gays Mills, Wisconsin.

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