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Desert Diary

Birds/Cliff Swallows


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Want to raise your young in a large community of like-minded neighbors? We have just the place for you. For zero down, you can end up with a single room, adobe structure ideal for raising a family. Lots of choices of location are available, varying from great views across the desert landscape to cozy nooks with extra protection from storms and other forces of nature.

Now, this may sound a little strange for a real estate advertisement, but that's because we're trying to think of what a cliff swallow might respond to. These graceful birds built in adobe long before man invaded the Chihuahuan Desert. Protected spots on cliffs allowed them to build mud structures beyond the reach of most terrestrial predators. With the encroachment of civilization, many opted out of the scenic view in favor of the more protective undersides of bridges. The nest area is completely enclosed except for an opening into a short entryway. These little structures are so enticing, that even migrating bats have been known to drop in for a day's stay.

pen and ink

Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.


Fuertes painting of cliff swallow

Painting of Cliff Swallow by Louis Agassiz Fuertes (Henshaw, 1921).



Henshaw, H. W. 1921. The book of birds. Common birds of town and country and American game birds. National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C. 195 pp.

Ligon, J. S. 1961. New Mexico birds and where to find them. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque. 360 pp.

Web Resources

Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology

USGS on the Cliff Swallow.