Cliff Swallows of Santee Lakes

   The Cliff Swallow's most distinguishing features are the black head cap, white forehead and the chestnut coloring on the throat and side of the head. Wing tops and back are a glossy blue-black. Both sexes look alike.

  Cliff Swallows  spend their winters in Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. Feeding as they travel,  the Spring arrival back in the breeding territory is known to be remarkably punctual. The best known arrival date is March 19, the day Cliff Swallows are said to return to the San Juan Capistrano Mission in Southern California.


   Cliff Swallow nests are located in colonies averaging a few hundred nests and  ranging up to two or three thousand. This particular colony at Santee  Lakes is   comprised of a hundred or so nests. The nests   are built side by side  under the  overhang of the concrete Mast Blvd.  Bridge.


   Cliff Swallows build gourd shaped nests out of mud pellets they carry in their mouth to a nest site protected by an overhang. The male begins the nest as a shelf adhered to a vertical surface.


  As the nest grows pellet by pellet, both adults take part in the nest building.  



   The pair continues the construction by first building up the sides.

   And then bringing the the sides together to form the roof.   The typical nest will contain  approximately 1,000 mud pellets.


  Sometimes the nest will have an entrance tunnel up to eight inches in length that points down and away from the other nests.  Although Cliff  Swallows are generally monogamous, polygamy is not uncommon. This particular nest shown to the right has two openings and appears to house two females.

   The finished nest is lined with grasses and feathers and both male and female share in the incubation and feeding of the chicks. The average number of chicks is from three to five. The chicks appear to spend most of their time waitng for an adult to return to the nest with some   tidbit.  At times, swarms of adult Cliff Swallows move to and fro above the lake, snatching insects from the air and  returning briefly to the nest to deliver the food to their chicks.


                           The following series of photographs shows a feeding sequence over an elapsed time
                           of approximately five minutes:


           The most serious enemy of the Cliff Swallow is the English  Sparrow, which takes over the nest
and destroys the eggs found within.

   Cliff Swallows typically raise two to three broods during the breeding season. After the final brood fledges the Cliff Swallows will leave for their winter stay in South America, and the cycle begins again.

    The photos shown in this Photo Journal entry were taken over an eight week period (April-May, 2004). This Cliff Swallow colony can be found under the Mast Blvd. bridge that spans Lake #2 at Santee Lakes Regional Park in Santee, California.

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