The flight of swallows

That’s a great title for a song if someone wants to use it. In any event, have you ever been to the beach or walking along the marsh and felt the gloom and doom of darkness approach even though it’s a bright and sunny day? Have you ever looked up into the sky to witness the emergence of a feathered tornado? What you’re watching is the flight of the swallows – which can be up to several thousand birds approaching in one flight!

These no-more-than-14-centimeter-in-length birds are commonly seen swarming along the mid-Atlantic coast in September, the tail end of their breeding season. However, they are found throughout central and northern North America during their entire breeding season from May to September. These very social birds winter in Florida and the Caribbean. They’re rarely seen on land and spend the majority of their life in trees, maybe coming down to earth just to graze their wings along the surface of a body of water for a quick bath.

Why are they found along the mid-Atlantic coast in September? Well, they congregate in large flocks to roost among groves of small trees and cattails away threats (e.g., lots of people). They also prefer to make the nest for their eggs in the holes of dead trees away from threats. Male and female swallows are very territorial when it comes to their nest and will stand guard even from approaching fellow swallows.

Swallows produce one brood per year, averaging 5 eggs. These birds prove it takes a village as they make a nest for their eggs using the feathers of other birds to keep the eggs warm. The eggs typically hatch in about two weeks and are able to fly from the nest after three weeks. In one year the young swallow will be mature enough to breed!

And, in case you’re not familiar with the phenomenon – check out this well done amateur video I found on YouTube of a swarm of swallows (set to classical music no less!). It’s quite to spectacular sight.

Other great bird resources:


Comparing seabirds, shorebirds, and wading birds

Here is a general overview of 10 characteristics of seabirds (birds that spend most of their life out at sea), shorebirds (migratory birds that scurry along the shore looking for food), and wading birds (taller birds that wade in wetlands for their food).

10 characteristics of seabirds (Examples include albatross, auk, booby, frigatebird, fulmar, gannet, murre, penguin, petrel, puffin, shearwater, and tropicbirds)

1. Seabirds are pelagic, spending most of their lives far out at sea.
2. Seabirds move toward to coastal areas to breed or raise young for a minimal amount of time.
3. Seabirds are light on their undersides and dark on top (an adaptation known as countershading).
4. Seabirds have more feathers than other types of birds for more insulation and waterproofing.
5. Seabirds have flexible webbed feet to help gain traction as they take off for flight from the sea.
6. Some seabirds have unusually sharp claws used to help grasp fish under the water.
7. Some larger seabirds (e.g., albatross) have long, slim wings allowing them to soar for long distances without getting tired.
8. Some smaller seabirds have short wings for maneuvering at the surface of the water.
9. Seabirds have specialized glands to be able to drink the saltwater and excrete salts.
10. Some seabirds (e.g., gannets) have head shape is usually tapered more efficiency in plunge diving.

10 characteristics of shorebirds (Examples include avocets, black skimmer, oystercatchers, plover, sandpiper, and stilt)

1. Shorebirds have long legs, pointed beaks, and long pointed wings.
2. Most shorebirds are migratory (Impressively some shorebirds fly non-stop for 3-4 days, equivalent to a human running continuous 4-minute miles for 60 hours).
3. Shorebirds wade close to the shore and poke their bills into the ground in search of food.
4. Shorebirds are small to medium size wading birds.
5. Shorebirds tend to frequent wetlands and marshes and are biological indicators of these environmentally sensitive lands.
6. Shore birds are of the order Charadriiformes.
7. Shorebirds are very well camouflaged for their environment and their appearance may vary from place to place as plumage (feather colors) are gained or lost during breeding.
8. Shorebirds typically range in size from 0.06 to 4.4 pounds.
9. Oystercatchers have a unique triangular bill that is a cross between a knife and a chisel.
10. The black skimmer is the only native bird in North America with its lower mandible larger than the upper mandible, which helps the bird gather fish as it skims the ocean surface.

10 characteristics of wading birds (Examples include crane, egret, flamingo, herons, ibis, rail, spoonbill, and stork)

1. Wading birds are found in freshwater or saltwater on every continent except Antarctica.
2. Wading birds have long, skinny legs and toes which help them keep their balance in wet areas where water currents may be present or muddy ground is unstable. Also, longer legs make it easier for them to search for food (forage) in deeper waters.
3. Wading birds have long bills with pointed or rounded tips (depending on what is more efficient for the types of food the bird consumes).
4. Wading birds have long, flexible necks that can change shape drastically in seconds, an adaptation for proficient hunting.
5. Herons have sophisticated and beautiful plumes during the breeding season, while smaller waders such as rails are much more camouflaged.
6. Wading birds may stand motionless for long periods of time waiting for prey to come within reach.
7. When moving, their steps may be slow and deliberate to not scare prey, and freeze postures are common when these birds feel threatened.
8. Adult wading birds are quiet as an essential tool for hunting. Wading birds may be vocal while nestling or while in flocks together.
9. Many wading birds form communal roosts and breeding rookeries, even mixing flocks of different species of wading birds or waterfowl.
10. Wading birds fully extend their legs to the rear when flying. The neck may be extended or not while in flight, depending on the species.

What is the difference between a tern and a gull?

Wings: Terns have long-pointed wings while gulls have broad wings.
Beaks: Terns have sharp bills while gulls have hooked beaks.
Body size: Terns are smaller.
Predatory practice: Terns dive to water to grab fish while gulls float on water to pick up prey.

Tern (l), Gull (r)

Image (c) (tern), (gull)

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