Cliff SwallowHirundo pyrrhonota Vieillot
Status Uncommon in summer. Breeds. The first Cliff Swallows generally appear in early May (average 6 May, earliest 21 April). In summer. they are common only in the immediate vicinity of their widely scattered nesting colonies. The number of this species breeding in the province appears to have declined in recent decades. Late birds are routinely seen in small numbers after most have departed in August (average 7 October, latest 9 November). Other even later reports from earlier years include three found by Israel J. Pothier on 28 November 1948 at Lower Wedgeport, Yarmouth County; he continued to see one or two daily until the snowy 13th of December, when the last was seen weakly flying from a pig-pen.
Description Length: 13-15 cm. Adults: Above, except rump and nape, dark iridescent blue; rump buffy orange; forehead buffy white; cheek and throat chestnut; breast and nape grayish fawn with a dark bluish black patch on upper breast; belly white; end of tail nearly square.
Breeding Nest: Made of mud pellets and grass, lined with soft grass and feathers and usually attached to the outside wall under the overhanging eaves of a barn or other building. Occasionally a single nest is attached to the outside of a porch or building, but generally the bird nests in colonies. I have never known this species to nest inside a building, but it is said to do so on occasion (Palmer 1949). Eggs: 4-5; white, with small spots of cinnamon-brown loosely covering the entire surface. Laying begins about 1 June. On 20 May 1951 at Black River, Kings County, one was seen gathering mud, and on 9 June 1913 two nests containing four fresh eggs each were examined at Albany, Annapolis County.
Range Breeds from central Alaska to northern Nova Scotia, south over much of the United States to central Mexico. Winters from Brazil southward.
Remarks Many in our farming districts believe the House Sparrow is primarily responsible for the decline in the Cliff Swallow population in recent years. The aliens are said to be showing increasing aggressiveness in usurping mud nests, at times taking them over by sheer pugnacity even before the swallows have started to lay.
To those so fortunate as to have these valuable and attractive birds still nesting about their buildings it is suggested that, during dry spells in early summer when nest construction is under way, a bucket of water be dumped from time to time on clay like soil, to create a muddy spot near the birds' building operations. The pleasure of watching the birds as they gather the mud pellets and carry them to their nests amply compensates one for the slight labour involved.
A novice could confuse this swallow with a Barn Swallow. However, a Barn Swallow has a deeply forked tail, and this bird's is nearly square. Their respective plumage markings are also quite distinctive, the buff rump patch worn by the Cliff Swallow being a good field mark; the Barn Swallow's rump is blue-black.
Our breeding Cliff Swallows are of the subspecies Hirundo pyrrhonota pyrrhonota. Twice in fall (in Halifax County on 4 October 1971, and on Seal Island on 8 October 1973) and once in spring (Seal Island on 6 June 1979) there have been reports by several observers of individual swallows with the very pale rump characteristic of Hirundo pyrrhonota hypopolia of central and northwestern North America. Vagrants from that region are not unexpected, especially in late fall.
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