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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Clever swallows

I just watched a great episode of "Nova" on PBS. One segment featured urban Barn Swallows with an incredible learned behavior. I searched online and located the story in "Birder's World Magazine" and pasted it below:

Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

"Hi-tech Barn Swallows

A couple of Minnesota Barn Swallows have raised the bar on the scale of "Swallow IQ." For the past four years, a pair of Barn Swallows has nested inside the lumberyard entryway at the Home Depot store in Maplewood, Minnesota. At least one pair has learned that if they fly a tight circle in front of the motion detector above the double doors at the entry to the Home Depot, the doors open. Each bird then flies one more loop as the doors open and swoops inside where the pair has built a nest atop a small pipe near the ceiling. When a bird is ready to leave, it flies a tight circle in front of the motion detector inside the doorway and the doors again open for Home Depot's small avian customers.

Keith Stomberg, a supervisor at the store, first noticed the birds nesting inside in the summer of 2001. He was fascinated by their apparent learned behavior and left them alone to raise their families. It was a good place for the swallows to raise their young because there were no predators or bad weather. The pair typically raised two broods each year. When the birds returned to nest in 2003, he contacted the staff of the Nongame Wildlife Program of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Wildlife biologist Joan Galli observed the nesting swallows and was amazed to see how the birds had adapted to the unique setting in order to raise their families. "We typically think of the crow family and the parrot family as among the most intelligent of birds," according to Galli, "but apparently the swallows have a few tricks of their own that help us appreciate how birds are constantly adapting to survive in novel human-created environments."
-- Carrol Henderson"

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