The answer to this week's What Is It Wednesday is...
..a barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) nest!
Here you can see a beautiful cobalt blue and orange swallow building its nest with mud and grasses as it prepares to lay its first clutch of the year.
Barn swallows are the most common swallow species worldwide and are known for building their mud nests almost exclusively on human structures (they used to build them in caves). If you have a barn swallow nest near your home, you will get a special, up-close glimpse into interesting bird behavior as almost 50% of breeding pairs return to their nests each year.
Nests are painstakingly built over the course of about 1,300 trips by both swallow parents, who will also work together to renovate nests that are a little worse for the wear. Once the chicks hatch, several different swallows including older siblings and even unrelated juvenile birds will pitch in to keep them fed.
In the 1800s, barn swallows, among other birds like egrets, were increasingly threatened due to the millinery (hat-making) industry that pined for beautiful feathers to feature on fanciful hats. This inspired conservationist George Bird Grinnell to write an article decrying the senseless killing of birds that led to federal protections for our avian friends and the formation of the first Audubon Society.
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