Bank Swallows at Bowmont Park

In late April of this year, while walking along the top of the Bowmont Park bluffs, I noticed some holes in the glacial till cliffs, which looked like good homes for some kind of swallow.

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On Sunday June 5th, I had the pleasure of seeing and hearing hundreds of Bank Swallows flying and twittering in the air near the bluffs. I recorded a little video to document how fast the swallows zip around. The sound isn’t very good – my camera makes a buzzing sound when I zoom out and there is a windy sound that almost drowns out the swallow twitters (I found wearing only my right ear-phone helped a bit) – but the magic of the swallows’ movement and numbers is much better represented in this video than in any photo I took.

I used high-speed burst mode on my camera to capture photos of the fast-flying birds. Three in a series looked like they would make a fun gif. I hand-held my camera, so the three photos were not perfectly aligned, and I had a bit of a tough time aligning them in Photoshop. But I did succeed in creating my first gif!

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The nest hole below was quite close to where I was standing, maybe 2 or 3 metres away. Luckily, the swallows occupying that hole were fond of hanging out at the entrance for long periods of time so I got some detailed photos of these usually fast-flying birds.

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In the next photo, the bird on the left is in the nest hole above. There were lots of other holes, with tens of other swallows, on this vertical portion of the bluff. I noticed three other vertical walls with Bank Swallow nest holes, separated by less vertical, vegetated bluff sections.

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Bank Swallows live in low areas along rivers, streams, ocean coasts, or reservoirs. Their territories usually include vertical cliffs or banks where they nest in colonies of 10 to 2,000 nests. (1)

The Bow River is a short walk from the base of the cliffs and there are other Bank Swallow colonies that nest in the banks of the river (check out this post on the Birds Calgary blog). Below is a view of a section of the bluffs in late April. The river is a wee bit visible, a little right of centre. The expanse of dirt on the right continues for acres and acres – one day it will be a constructed wetland which will treat stormwater runoff and be home to a variety of birds and other animals.

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Bank Swallows almost exclusively eat flying or jumping insects, such as bees, wasps, ants, butterflies or moths. The swallows catch insects while flying, usually at a height of 50 ft above water or open ground. Bank Swallows only occasionally take insects from the ground or from the surface of water. They can feed singly or in large groups. (1)

Besides swallows, I also saw wasps fly out of holes in the cliffs – small, wasp-sized holes.

Male Bank Swallows use their small, conical bills as well as their feet and wings to dig burrows that will lead to a nest chamber. The burrows are perpendicular to the ground level and, when finished, are dug about 25 inches into the side of the bank. The male enlarges the tunnel upward and to both sides to form the nest chamber. (1)

I haven’t read about the formation of the holes in this particular cliff anywhere, so I can’t be sure, but it looks to me like the holes were created by Bank Swallows. They look like burrows, not geological formations. I suppose that many of the holes are revamped and reused each year. Maybe a few swallows don’t succeed in securing a pre-built hole and must dig their own.

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1. Cornell Lab of Ornithology – All About Birds

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34 Comments

  1. Excellent photos, as usual. I love seeing the detail of these birds – usually (as you point out) they are flying around far too quickly for me to see anything. Also, I love how you’ve revealed the secret life of that little cliff πŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks for the lovely compliment J. I’m glad I went back to the cliffs later in the spring to discover their “secret life”. So many different “secret lives” in the different corners of Bowmont Park. It was fun sharing the owls’ nest and the chickadee forest with you. πŸ™‚

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  2. Wow! The video explains their activity on the bank more than words and describe. How awesome to see so many busy with their daily routine; it would be intriguing to watch. I can see where the unused holes would invite other wild animals for their safe nests.

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    1. Thanks for your lovely comment, Lois. I’m so glad you enjoyed the video. If you hear of bank swallows near where you live, I would definitely recommended spending some time watching them. A spectacular aerial display! Large numbers of other types of swallows over a lake are quite a treat to watch too. πŸ™‚

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  3. How intriguing! That cliff – the birds …. and YOU created a GIF! way to go Myr. Great post πŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks for your lovely comment, Jodi. So glad you enjoyed the post. And thanks for appreciating the gif! It would be fun to do one with simple line drawings of birds in different stages of flight… Maybe some day. πŸ™‚

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  4. Excellent work. I enjoyed this.

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    1. Thanks so much, Sherry Lynn. I’m happy I could transmit some of the beauty of the place. πŸ™‚

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  5. Great job once again, Myriam! You really have a gift for finding interesting shots of birds, whether it be bank swallows or owls.

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    1. Thanks for your awesome compliment, Michael! I feel lucky that I’ve found feathered inhabitants of my city that I didn’t know existed a year ago, when I was not looking for birds everywhere I went. Glad other people are enjoying my discoveries too! πŸ™‚

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      1. Your efforts are a testament that interesting things are all around us; we just need to look for them. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  6. You took advantage of a great opportunity and it was worth it! Great shots!

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    1. Thanks for your lovely comment, Andy. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos! πŸ™‚

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  7. Most enjoyable post, Myr. I love swallows, but as we have no banks nearby, rarely see bank swallows. Thanks for sharing them with us!

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    1. Thanks for your lovely comment, Eliza. I’m thrilled that you enjoyed my photos and have had the rare pleasure of seeing bank swallows. πŸ™‚

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  8. My gawdawful internet won’t show me these photos so I’ll have to remember to come back and check them out when I head to town for wifi. But hooray for your first GIF! I have yet to figure out how to make one. πŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks the gif hooray, Teresa! Always a pleasure to see your self-portrait avatar! Sorry to hear your internet is being a drrrahhhg. You’ve been thinking of making a gif?

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      1. I haven’t been thinking about it constantly but occasionally, I’ll see one and I’ll think, “boy, wouldn’t it be fun to make my own?” πŸ˜‰

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  9. Lovely!! Swallows have got to be one of my favourite types of birds. Thanks for sharing! πŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks for your lovely comment, Hazel. I’m happy that you like swallows too. They are such amazing flyers! πŸ™‚

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      1. I really mean that. Amazing is even humble word to say about your photos. I looked before your photos about owlets again and thought: Wow! Like in some professional wildlife magazine. For people like me, who love birds so much, your blog is just the right one to follow. It makes me so happy to see these photos of birds. πŸ™‚

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        1. Thanks, Hanna! Wow, that is so nice of you to say. I don’t find my photos are quite professional quality but I do appreciate the bird details I can capture with my telephoto lens. I’m happy to have the photos as memories and I’m glad they are good enough for other people to enjoy the magic of my bird adventures. I saw this video of an osprey catching a fish today from a BBC movie on Scotland. The movements of the wings are amazing! In case you haven’t seen it yet:

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  10. Oh wow! Great shots especially with their wings open. Beautiful, myr!

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    1. Thanks for your sweet comment, Laura. Glad you enjoyed the photos. I like the open wings too. πŸ™‚

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  11. Spectacular! I cannot get over how cute those birds are…soooo cute. Thank you for the fascinating information about these birds along with your amazing photographs. Being able to capture them close up, moving in a video and creating a terrific GIF….shows tremendous talent! Love how you caught the face of the swallow on the GIF, eye contact! I could keep burbling away, but suffice to say…this is an awesome post with gorgeous footage. Thank you so much for sharing the beauty you find.

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    1. Thanks so much for your lovely comment, Haunani :-). I’m so touched by your appreciation of my post… like you understood the feeling of sitting on a little patch of dirt and grass to watch the going ons of new and magnificent little animals.

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  12. Neat gif, and wonderful stills of the Swallows perched on the edge of their holes.

    They’re so fast! I really liked the movement of their wings in your slowed down bit of footage.

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    1. Thanks for your lovely comment, Deborah :-). I’m glad I got a few quick photos in a row of swallows flying. So cool to see the sequence of their wing movements! Have you seen the footage of an osprey catching a fish from a BBC show on Scotland? I just saw it today. Amazing! I posted a link to the youtube video a little higher up in the comments if you are interested.

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      1. MP! I haven’t see that video, but I’ll look for it. I’ve seen Osprey fishing and nabbing a fish more than once. It’s amazing that they are able to see a fish from high above their water source, and the diving! It’s awesome to watch!

        I’ll go look for that clip. It never gets old watching an Osprey. πŸ™‚

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        1. I’ve never seen an osprey dive into water to catch a fish in real life. Lucky you! Did you have to wait long? I did see an osprey flying with a fish in its talons about a kilometre away. Best osprey-with-fish sighting so far. πŸ™‚

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  13. Wow, fabulous post and wonderful photos and recording. Enjoyed!

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    1. Thanks for your awesome compliment, Connie. So glad you enjoyed the swallows! πŸ™‚

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