Gift of birdwatching: Cliff swallow

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Cliff swallows by the hundreds perch along powerlines along the gravel roads of Dallas County. Photo courtesy Ray Harden


If you drive in the country during late summer, you might notice hundreds of small birds packed tightly together on utility lines, as if waiting for some grand performance. Others are hovering, and still more are down on the gravel.

This week’s Gift of Birdwatching species is the cliff swallow, which historically nested on bluffs and banks of Iowa’s larger rivers.

Now they can be seen on almost any large concrete bridge that is over water. They make gourd-shaped nests out of mud, and they nest in large colonies, numbering in the hundreds.

One of the behaviors of this bird is known as sunbathing, lying on a gravel road on warm summer days. You can observe this behavior in Dallas County, at both Voas Nature Area and Kuehn Conservation Area.

Mike Havlik is a naturalist in the Dallas County Conservation Department.

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