Staging At The Cape

Flock of Tree Swallows by Cindy Bryant on Vimeo, 12 Jan 2015, Central Florida.

Last weekend at Cape Cod I saw a swirling flock of tree swallows at their staging area.

Staging: Designating a stopping-place or assembly-point en route to a destination — from The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

Tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) breed as far north as the tundra/tree line in Canada and Alaska and spend the winter from Florida to Central America.  Their departure from western Pennsylvania is barely noticeable but on the East Coast they gather in salt marshes in huge flocks of a hundred thousand birds.  Their interim stops on migration are called staging areas.

In the evening tree swallows funnel down to the marsh in a tornado of birds.  At dawn they burst up from the roost, as shown in the Central Florida video above.

Last Saturday I saw thousands of tree swallows flying in tight formation at West Dennis Beach.  Though sunset was two hours away they flew low across the salt marsh, hovered and touched down on bushes, swirled up and around and away.

At the height of their swirling I took some photos but couldn’t capture their magic.  However, this picture shows why they flew so fast and so close.  There’s a falcon in the upper right corner with a swallow in its talons.  Perhaps it’s a merlin.  I would never have noticed without this photo.

Thousands of tree swallows and one falcon with prey, West Dennis Beach, MA, 1 Oct 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)
Thousands of tree swallows and one falcon with prey, West Dennis Beach, MA, 1 Oct 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)

Here’s an audio description of the tree swallows’ fall migration at Connecticut salt marshes at Living On Earth: BirdNote®: Roosting Tree Swallows

It’s worth an autumn visit to the East Coast to see this.


(video by Cindy Bryant on Vimeo, photo by Kate St. John)

One thought on “Staging At The Cape

  1. I live at the Jersey Shore and grew up with a salt marsh behind the house. One of my favorite childhood memories is the annual fall visit of the tree swallows. They would swarm and then rest on the utility lines on our dead end street. My mom would yell for us to help her get the clothes off the drying lines outside lest my dad’s work shirts get soiled, splat. The bushes they descend upon are bayberry bushes. Tree swallows are amongst a few bird species which can digest the waxy berries. Our bayberry bushes would come alive with movement when they decided to descend and then—swoosh—they were all back in the air. I smile with delight when the tree swallows are in town. I let their movement and sound wash over me.

    Thanks for the video. It’s awesome.

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