Red-billed oxpeckers squabble over prime seating on the back of an African buffalo. These birds are famous for travelling on tolerant buffalo and other mammals, feeding on various insects on their hosts or nearby.
When the time comes, these birds build nests in tree cavities, which makes this photo all the more interesting. This group of birds seem to be using a rudimentary nest made out of mud and hair plucked from the back of this buffalo. This is the first time I have seen this and I haven’t been able to find any reports elsewhere, so if anyone has some insights into this behaviour, please share!
Don’t try this at home. Suspended upside down, this cliff swallow latches onto its superbly engineered nest before entering the small opening by doing a pull-up with its legs!
Cliff swallows build elaborate, gourd shaped nests with downward facing entrances to shield their young against predators and the elements. Historically they would build these nests on cliffs, but with so many bridges and houses providing perfect 90 degree angles, they are now found in many towns and cities. Each nest typically requires between 900-1400 round trips to bring back enough mud pellets to complete their designs.
These colony nesters are considered by some to be pests due to the noise and mess they can produce. However, they more than make up for these slight annoyances by keeping the local insect populations in check. Each swallow can consume between 800-1000 mosquitoes per day, which not only keeps the pesky insects from biting us, but it also limits the transmission of West Nile virus and other mosquito transmitted, blood borne pathogens. Two very good reasons to find ways to co-exist with these birds and other insectivorous species.
I took these photos during the summer. By now these birds will have made it down to their wintering grounds in South America, not unlike many Canadians during this time of year.
I have watched this nest periodically over the summer, hoping to catch the fledglings as they take to the air. I lucked out, as I saw each one of them practice their newly discovered flying abilities. This particular bird did a low fly by over the heads of the two others, who ducked to get out of the way as they watched it soar past.