25 June 2012

A swallows nest with chicks

In the eaves of a building in the Tunisian countryside I noticed this nest made out of mud with three little heads popping out.  I carried out some research on the internet to find out which birds build nests out of mud.  I found out that although many birds and insects use mud to build their nests it is generally barn and cliff swallows which tend to make these type of nests as shown in the photograph below. 

I was also interested to find out how swallows know how to make nests out of mud but I could not find any information about that.  I realise that nest making is an instinctive activity.  These nests made from mud need to be structurally sound, cool in the summer and large enough to accommodate the chicks and the adult birds. To think that the swallows need to source the mud, make sure it is the right consistency and carry the mud in their beak back to the nest site.  Imagine how many trips they must make before the cup shaped nest is finally built. Instead of providing information for the amateur ornithologist and naturalist, the internet was full of advice about swallow control products and how to stop swallows making mud nests.  

"Swallows in the genera Hirundo, Ptyonoproggne, Cecropis, Petrochelidon and Delichon build mud nests close to overhead shelter in locations that are protected from both the weather and predators. The mud-nesters are most common in the Old World, particularly Africa, whereas cavity-nesters are the rule in the New World. Mud nesting species in particular are limited in areas of high humidity, which causes the mud nests to crumble. Many cave, bank and cliff dwelling species of swallow nest in large colonies. Mud nests are constructed by both males and females, and amongst the tunnel diggers the excavation duties are shared as well." 

A swallows nest with chicks in the eaves of a building.

"The swallows and martins are a group of passerine birds in the family Hirundinidae which are characterised by their adaptation to aerial feeding. Swallow is used colloquially in Europe as a synonym for the Barn Swallow.

This family comprises two subfamilies: Pseudochelidoninae (the river martins of the genus Pseudochelidon) and Hirundininae (all other swallows and martins). Within the Hirundininae, the name "martin" tends to be used for the squarer-tailed species, and the name "swallow" for the more fork-tailed species; however, there is no scientific distinction between these two groups. The family contains around 83 species in 19 genera.

The swallows have a cosmopolitan distribution across the world and breed on all the continents except Antarctica. It is believed that this family originated in Africa as hole-nesters; Africa still has the greatest diversity of species.  They also occur on a number of oceanic islands. A number of European and North American species are long-distance migrants; by contrast, the West and South African swallows are non-migratory. A few species of swallow and martin are threatened with extinction by human activities, although other species have benefited from human changes to the environment and live around humans."

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