Bruce Auchly is the information officer for Region4 of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. He’s also a confirmed bird watching enthusiast. He writes a bi-weekly article on what’s happening outdoors in Montana.

Last week, one warm sunny afternoon – the kind of spring day that makes one believe, even hope that global warming is not only true but winter has been outlawed – mayflies hovered in clouds over the Missouri River in north central Montana.

The insects didn’t exactly blacken the sky, but it was heartening to see another sign of the changing seasons.

By the next day, cliff swallows had returned to the river and were flying around with their mouths open gobbling up the available insect protein.

Swallows are amazing birds. They eat a tremendous amount of insects. They fly around with their small, but gaping mouths open, scooping up hundreds of bugs.

And what flight. Darting, pirouetting, diving, swallows have few peers in nature. Think of air shows featuring the Navy’s Blue Angels, or the Air Force’s Thunderbirds. While we cheer the human endeavor and pilots’ derring-do, their aerobatics pale in comparison to swallows.

That swallows are relatively tame and some species will nest near or on our houses and garages just adds to their appeal.

Migratory songbirds, like swallows, are protected. They cannot be hunted or harassed.

So think of the good they do. Like eat insects. By the thousands. Every day. And they are pretty cool to watch twist and turn through the air. In fact, if there is ever an Olympic event in feathered aerobatics, put your money on the swallows.

Most songbirds don't start arriving this far north until May. Bluebirds are an exception, wintering from Utah and Arizona south through Mexico and arriving in north central Montana in early to mid-March.

By the way, there are several fascinating web sites on spring migrants. One of the better sites is hosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society. It lists weekly updates by regions, then species.

For a Montana flavor, specifically which bird is seen where. Then click on the North America link followed by regional under mailing lists. Finally scroll down the page to Western US and click on Montana. Bookmark it at that point.