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A summer studying swallows
August 4, 2008
A large colony of cliff swallows tucked beneath a bridge in Cannon Falls, Minn., served as the perfect subject for a bird lover's research project this summer. This common bird provided a summer that was anything but ordinary for St. Olaf student Allison Johnson '10, who found herself climbing a ladder over the Cannon River to research how parent swallows recognize their young in the nest.
|As part of her research, Allison Johnson '10 took many photos, including these, of the facial patterns of fledgling swallows.|
A biology major, Johnson's interest in evolution merged with her interest in birds to form the idea for this project. Her research studies the facial patterns on fledgling swallows to determine whether parents use the patterns as an indicator of which babies in their nest are their own offspring.
Swallows typically experience egg swapping in the nests and have multiple mates, Johnson explains. Female swallows commonly move their eggs from one nest to another or lay their eggs in another swallow's nest. This creates nests of baby swallows that are not necessarily related to the parent left to raise them. During times of limited food supply, it is possible that swallows use some type of indicator to determine which babies are their own, and then only feed their recognized offspring, Johnson says.
|Cliff swallows build conical mud nests and live in large colonies such as this one that Johnson studied and photographed.|
Johnson plans to continue following her interest in birds and evolution, and she is considering studying evolutionary biology in graduate school.