July 8th , 2013 9:23 am Leave a comment

Summer swallows busy with nesting duties

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I have been caring for my brother’s dog this past week at his apartment, which has also given me an opportunity to see some open-country birds, including Eastern Meadowlarks, Red-winged Blackbirds, Indigo Buntings and Barn Swallows.
The Barn Swallows have been particularly entertaining. Many pairs of adult Barn Swallows have young that have recently left the nest. Each evening, the adults bring the entire family to the apartment complex. The young swallows perch on the roofs over the entrance porches to each complex. The adults fly over the nearby fields, foraging for insects that they deliver back to the waiting, always hungry, young birds.

At home this year, a pair of Tree Swallows attempted a nesting but were thwarted by a nocturnal predator. I haven’t seen the Tree Swallows since their nest was invaded.

Overall, it’s been a good year for swallows. I have five of the six species usually found in Northeast Tennessee during the summer. In addition to Tree and Barn Swallows, I have seen Cliff Swallows, Northern Rough-winged Swallows and Purple Martins.

I haven’t encountered any Bank Swallows, but these members of the swallow family are rather hit-or-miss in the region. Because of their specialized nesting needs, Bank Swallows are localized in their distribution and not as widespread as their kin.

Cliff Swallows nest beneath many of our local bridges. These swallows, which at one time nested primarily on rocky cliffs, now frequently nest under man-made structures. They make their jug-shaped nests out of mud and clay. These nesting “jugs” are all located in clusters beneath bridges and other structures. It’s a wonder that the parents flying in with food are able to tell their nests apart from the nearby seemingly identical nests of their neighbors.

Barn Swallows, as suggested by their name, nest in barns. I have also found these swallows nesting in parking garages and beneath backyard decks.

The Northern Rough-winged Swallow are opportunists when it comes to nesting.
According to a profile written by Mark Johns with North Carolina Wesleyan College, this small swallow nests near rocky gorges, shale banks, stony road cuts, railroad embankments, gravel pits, eroded margins of streams and other exposed banks of clay, sand or gravel. They will also nest in old kingfisher burrows, protruding drainpipes, crevices in brick or stone structure such as dams, bridges or tunnels, gutters and culverts. Their nests are often built near open water.

While only a few swallows range into the United States and Canada, a total of 83 species of swallows can be found worldwide. Some of the common names for these different swallows (and martins) are quite descriptive. A sampling includes White-eyed River Martin, Square-tailed Saw-wing, White-headed Saw-wing, Grey-rumped Swallow, White-backed Swallow, Banded Martin, Violet-green Swallow, Golden Swallow, White-winged Swallow, White-rumped Swallow, Brown-chested Martin, Brown-bellied Swallow, Pale-footed Swallow, White-bibbed Swallow, Pearl-breasted Swallow, Greater Striped Swallow, Mosque Swallow, Fairy Martin and Chestnut-collared Swallow.

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I hope everyone enjoyed their Fourth of July. As the nation’s most patriotic of holidays, it’s always a time to see plenty of Bald Eagles represented in commercials, advertisements and other promotions for this holiday.
The Bald Eagle was recognized as the official national bird of the United States fairly early in the nation’s history.

The founders of the United States often compared their new republic with the Roman Republic, in which eagle imagery was prominent. On June 20, 1782, the Continental Congress adopted the still-current design for the Great Seal of the United States depicting a Bald Eagle grasping 13 arrows and a 13-leaf olive branch with its talons.

Most of the world’s more than 60 species of eagles occur in Eurasia and Africa. Less than a dozen species of eagles range outside this core area. Two species — Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle — occur in the United States and Canada, while nine species can be found in Central America and South America. Australia is home to another three species of eagles.

The Harpy Eagle is found through Central America and into South America to as far south as Argentina. It’s the largest of the eagles in the Americas. Females can reach a weight of 20 pounds and have a wingspan of more than seven feet. The male is smaller, but both sexes of the Harpy Eagle are fierce predator capable of taking prey as large as monkeys and sloths.

Other eagles species include Tawny Eagle, Black-and-chestnut Eagle, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Crowned Eagle, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Wedge-tailed Eagle and Booted Eagle.

Haast’s Eagle, an extinct species of eagle that once lived on the South Island of New Zealand, was the largest eagle known to have existed.

This eagle was named for the German geologist Julius von Haast, who founded Canterbury Museum at Christchurch in New Zealand. Haast, who died in 1887, was one of the first scientists to study Moas and other large flightless birds that once roamed New Zealand.

In fact, Haast’s Eagle was considered a major predator on the population of New Zealand Moas, some of which reached a height of 12 feet tall and a weight of more than 500 pounds. By contrast, female Haast Eagles probably reached a weight of 22 to 33 pounds. Males, as is the case with most living eagles, were smaller than females and probably weighed between 20 to 26 pounds.

This mega-sized eagle possessed a relatively short wingspan of roughly 8 to 10 feet wide. This wingspan compares to that recorded for large specimens of Golden Eagle and Steller’s Sea Eagle. Even the largest of today’s eagles, however, are about 40 percent smaller in body size than the size of Haast’s Eagles.

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Bill and Gayle Waite, who reside on Sabine Street in Elizabethton, reported an unusual visitor in the lot next to their home.
“My wife and I have seen what we believe is a Yellow-crowned Night-heron in the lot next to our house,” Bill wrote. “We’ve seen it on three separate occasions stalking through the grass and picking up night crawlers.  These sightings have been in the early mornings.”
This heron does nest along the Watauga River, and the early-morning visits are in character with this bird’s habits.

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John McKee of Elizabethton called me last week to report a Snowy Egret he saw a couple of weeks ago in the Blackbottom community along the Watauga River. He also shared several photos of the visiting egret.

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Barbara Lake of Hampton reported that she is the proud landlord for four baby Eastern Bluebirds that hatched on July 2. The babies are the offspring of Blossom, one of Barbara’s favorite resident bluebirds.

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Make a comment, ask a question or share an observation by calling me at 297-9077 or by sending an email to bstevens@starhq.com or ahoodedwarbler@aol.com. I am also on Facebook.

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