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Sci Rep. 2018 Jul 23;8(1):11050. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-29307-8.

Mineralogical and textural characteristics of nest building geomaterials used by three sympatric mud-nesting hirundine species.

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Department of Geology, University of Patras, Rio - Patras, 26504, Greece.
Department of Biology, University of Patras, Rio - Patras, 26504, Greece.
Department of Geology, University of Patras, Rio - Patras, 26504, Greece.


Many hirundine species construct their nests by carrying mud particles from adjacent areas. This study aimed to investigate for the first time the materials that mud-nesting hirundines choose for nest construction from a mineralogical and sedimentological perspective. For this purpose, we sampled nests of three sympatric species, namely the Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica), the Red-rumped Swallow (Cecropis daurica) and the House Martin (Delichon urbicum), from southeastern Europe. Our results showed that all species tend to use clay minerals as a cement and especially smectite and illite and if these minerals are not present in the adjacent area, they use halloysite, kaolinite or chlorite. The amounts of clay minerals in the nests are generally low indicating that the studied species can accurately identify the properties of the nesting materials. Most of the non clay minerals that they use are the common, easily accessible colourless or white minerals with low specific gravity values such as quartz, feldspars and calcite. Grain size distribution analysis revealed that the amount of clay sized grains in the mud nests of all three species is relatively low, while the amount of larger grain particles decreases when the size of the non clay minerals is small. The Red-rumped Swallow showed an increasing preference for larger grain size particles and quartz, the Barn Swallow for finer grain size particles and calcite, and the preferences of the House Martin are in between the other two species. The three hirundine species present different nest building strategies and depending on the nest architecture, each of them seems to show preference for specific minerals and specific grain sizes.

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