Barn swallows build nests at St. Catherine Creek

Published 12:36 am Sunday, May 10, 2009

SIBLEY — Some new friends have made their residence at St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge.

Between 50 and 60 barn swallows have built mud nests on the roof beams of one of the refuge’s equipment sheds.

The birds were on their way north for their summer migration when some decided to lay their eggs underneath the shed. Barn swallows lay between four to seven brown and white eggs in mud cups reinforced with grass, feathers and plant material, and they typically nest on or under building rafters.

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The refuge’s new residents arrived earlier this year.

“I noticed them in early March,” refuge manager Charman Cupit said. “They’re pretty loud — they chirp all the time. But they’re not bothering anybody.”

Barn swallows like to nest in colonies, according to bird enthusiast Bill McGehee, who has seen the birds at the refuge.

He said the swallows are migratory, going at least as far south as Mexico and as far north as New England.

The ones at the refuge won’t go any further north, and will probably migrate south in October.

“They’re very graceful, fast birds,” McGehee said. “They get most of their food from the sky, while they’re flying around.”

McGehee will lead a group of refuge visitors on a guided song bird walk May 16 at the refuge.

The tour will meet at 7 a.m. at the visitors center office and head down the trail for a morning of watching and listening for birds.

“The song birds are migrating through right now,” Cupit said. “And we’re all learning about birds at the office, so we just thought this would be a good way to get more interest in the refuge, in a way that doesn’t use up resources.”

McGehee, a member of the Mississippi Ornithological Society, said he was asked by the refuge to lead the tour.

McGehee was a member of the Hartford Audobon Society in Connecticut for more than 20 years before moving to Mississippi 10 years ago.

“Birds are just what I’m most interested in,” he said. “They’re so different from humans — they’re completely alien. They’re beautiful and just fascinating, and you can never learn everything about them.”

After the tour, attendees will be offered light refreshments. There is no charge or registration to attend, Cupit said — just show up that morning.

“The trail is in good shape, although most of the refuge is under water now because the river is so high,” McGehee said. “But the trail is dry. We’ll just walk along that trail and see what we can see.”