Windham Life and Times – May 21, 2021

Bank Swallows-Winged Acrobats flying over a Lake or Pond near you.

So I have been really impressed this year by the numbers of swallows flying over Cobbett’s Pond.  In early Spring, there were groups near the hundreds darting, dropping and rising over the water. I’ve never seen so many. The best time to spot them is at dusk and dawn. So on Monday night, I was standing on my wall near the shore admiring a pod of three sparrows, performing their acrobatics. Suddenly, they came following the shore, in a tight formation, inches from each other, and flew just past my face as if they knew I was watching them. My wife, a natural born skeptic, thinks this is just a quaint tale that I fabricated, but they really did soar past me, up close and personal and it was incredible!

    Audubon says the following: “The smallest of our swallows, the Bank Swallow is usually seen in flocks flying low over ponds and rivers with quick, fluttery wingbeats. It nests in dense colonies, in holes in dirt or sand banks. Some of these colonies are quite large and a tall cut bank may be pockmarked with several hundred holes. Despite their tiny size, tiny bills and small feet, these swallows generally dig their own nesting burrows, sometimes up to five feet long.”

    Also according to Audubon these swallows “migrate north relatively late in spring compared to other swallows. A long distance migrant, wintering in lowlands of South America. In late summer, may gather in huge flocks before southward migration.”

     According to the Cornell Lab: The svelte and speedy little Bank Swallow zips through the air with quick twists and buzzy wingbeats. Look for them in chattering nesting colonies dug into the sides of sandy cliffs or banks, or pick them out

of mixed swallow flocks as they catch insects over the water. These birds occur on all the continents except Australia and Antarctica—but in North America their numbers have mysteriously plummeted since 1970, and they are recognized as a Common Bird in Steep Decline.” Well, if Cobbett’s Pond is any indication, they are making a rapid recovery.

· “Bank Swallows are one of the most widely distributed birds in the world. In the Old World, this species is known as the Sand Martin.”

· “Bank Swallows nest in burrows in banks and sandy cliffs. In recent years, they have started to nest in gravel and sand piles in construction sites and freight yards. The small birds dig the burrows themselves, using their feet, wings, and bill.”

· “Male Bank Swallows are able to distinguish heavier, apparently more receptive, female birds in flight and preferentially chase them for mating.”

· “The oldest known Bank Swallow was at least 8 years old when it was recaptured and rereleased at a banding station in Wisconsin

     “Look for nesting Bank Swallows in banks and bluffs along rivers and lakes, where they can occur in colonies of up to 2,000 nests. These birds stick to open, wet areas and steer clear of forested habitats. Their harsh, doubled call note is distinctive as they pass overhead. Also, remember that flocks of swallows often contain several species—so linger with big flocks and keep your eyes out for a slightly smaller, brown swallow with quick, fluttery wingbeats—then look for the neat brown band across the chest.”

     According to New Hampshire Wildlife: Aerial insectivores (here including nightjars, swifts, flycatchers, and swallows) have recently received increased conservation attention due to significant declines in several species (Hunt 2009, Nebel et al. 2010). Because all species share a common prey base of flying insects, there has been much speculation on a potential common cause for many of the declines. Much current research has been directed toward swifts and swallows in North America, resulting in greater knowledge of potential threats. Swifts and swallows have several ecological characteristics in common. All are highly aerial, and feed entirely on insects captured during sustained flight – often quite high in the air column. Threats identified for the group as a whole include changes in food supply, effects of insecticides on adults or young, loss of nesting locations, climate change. It should be noted that any of these factors could be affecting birds at any point in their annual cycle, and knowledge of their winter ecology is currently largely unknown. Like many aerial insectivores, populations of Bank Swallow are in strong decline. Based on BBS (Sauer et al. 2014) data the species has declined at 9.25% annually since 1966 in NH (‐8.46% from 2003‐2013). Regionally, declines are higher in the north (BCR 14: ‐10.59%) than the south (BCR 30: ‐4.09%) (see also Nebel et al. 2010). Repeated Breeding Bird Atlases have documented declines in occupancy of 30‐45% (Cadman et al. 2007, McGowan and Corwin 2008, Renfrew 2013) Sources online.

   On the other hand, maybe birds aren’t even real:

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