Cliff Swallow Nesting Season at Bear River MBR

Bear River Cliff SwallowBear River Cliff Swallow – Nikon D810, f10, 1/500, ISO 500, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

Last week while at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge I saw my first of the year Cliff Swallows while on the north side of the auto tour route. More of the swallows will migrate to the refuge very soon and the Cliff Swallow nesting season will start.

Cliff Swallow collecting mud for its nestCliff Swallow collecting mud for its nest – Nikon D200, f6.3, 1/400, ISO 400, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

I find it fascinating to watch the Cliff Swallows gathering mud pellets from puddles and the banks of the river and water impoundments at the refuge. I’ve read where it takes 4000 trips each for the male and female to gather enough mud for their nests. That is a lot of trips with a bill filled with mud. Quite often these very social birds will make synchronized trips to gather mud for their nests for their one brood.

Cliff Swallow flock on Phragmites PanoCliff Swallow flock on Phragmites – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 200, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

There will be Cliff Swallows by the thousands & thousands at the refuge soon eating midges and mosquitoes (bless them, I despise mosquitoes), perched on top of phragmites and rushes and calling out noisy alarms when they are disturbed.

Cliff Swallow nests in northern MontanaCliff Swallow nests in northern Montana – Nikon D200, f6.3, 1/45, ISO 500, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 130mm, natural light

I’ve photographed some of the Cliff Swallow nests at the refuge but wanted to share this photo of Cliff Swallow nests built in an old barn in Glacier County, Montana because I was able to get close enough to show the individual mud pellets that form the nests and the old wood was more pleasing to my eye than some of the nests I have photographed at the refuge.

For the people from Utah who read my blog I thought this information about Cliff Swallows from Birds of North America Online was interesting:

The Cliff Swallow was one of the first North American birds to be described. Although its discovery in Colorado is usually credited to Thomas Say on Stephen Long’s expedition to the Rocky Mountains in 1820 (James 1823), the bird and its colonial breeding habits were first mentioned by the Spaniard Silvestre Velez de Escalante in September 1776 when he encountered large numbers in the Wasatch Range of Utah (Coues 1899).

Life is good. Birds enhance my life.


The first three images were taken at Bear River MBR from 2009 through 2015


  1. Elephant's Child March 26, 2016 at 1:00 pm

    I suspect the Native Americans described them first.
    4000 blobs of mud? That is dedication. And incredible architecture too.

  2. April Olson March 26, 2016 at 11:08 am

    I enjoy it when you post the sound. I like listening while I look at the beautiful photos and read your blog.

  3. Patty Chadwick March 26, 2016 at 11:00 am

    Those nests are incredible feats of architecture..and to think they’ve been created one small blob of mud at a time…exhausting to even think about!!!….no wonder they prefer to build them under the protection pf overhanging eaves and rocks…and how wise!!! Birds are amazing!!!

  4. Utahbooklover March 26, 2016 at 10:38 am

    Nice images and interesting post, complete with their alarm call. Thanks Mia.
    Yesterday we came home to a hawk plucking a dove on the front lawn. As we pulled in the driveway it flew off with the dove. Quite a mess to clean up but interesting to see the balance of nature in action.

  5. Molly March 26, 2016 at 10:06 am

    I liked seeing Cliff Swallows growing up in Montana on canoe trips. Fascinating little birds.

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