Archive for Swallows

Barn Swallow male 8/23/18

Barn Swallows are leaving and in many areas have already left on their long distance migration to Central and South America. Originally a cave-roosting bird, they became a worldwide species having successfully spread with human development—taking advantage of open human structures like barns and bridges for breeding, and wires for roosting. They prefer open country near water, catching insect prey on the wing. They have shiny cobalt-blue upper parts, cinnamon foreheads and bibs, and off-white underparts. The long outer tail feathers of adults makes them easy to tell apart from the other North American swallows, and the swallow tails of males are considerably longer than in females.


Tree Swallow 6/11/18

Tree Swallows, sometimes called White-bellied Swallows, arrive in April from southernmost parts of North America, the Caribbean, and northern Central America while other North American Swallows winter farther south. Males are an iridescent blue-green on their uppersides and white below, while females are browner above with just hints of blue-green iridescence. As females age they become more colorful and iridescent like the males. They’re found near open fields and wetlands and nest in tree cavities but take readily take to nest boxes like this one.  They raise their young on insects caught on the wing, but if caught by a cold snap early in the season, they can supplement their diet with berries.


Purple Martin male 5/21/18

Largest of the North American swallows, Purple Martins are still reeling from population declines due to the introduction of invasive species like European Starlings and House Sparrows who outcompete them for cavity nest sites. In the east they are mostly colonial and depend entirely on nest boxes and gourds put out by people, while in the west and southeast they still nest singly in natural cavities. Like other swallows their habitat is open country near water where they forage for larger insect prey like dragonflies at higher altitudes than other swallows. Adult males are dark blue and iridescent, while females and immature are browner-backed and lighter breasted, with patchier bits of less glossy blue.


Purple Martin female 7/14/14


Purple Martins are the biggest of the North American swallows and during the breeding season come in 4 different plumages. Adult males are dark all over with a glossy blue sheen both above and below, while subadult males have lighter chests and bellies with random dark blotches. Adult females like the one above are blue black above with some browner areas with a duller sometimes streaked breast and belly, while sub-adult females are even lighter bellied and mostly brownish with little or no blue sheen on their topsides. Adult plumage develops in two year-old martins. However subadults commonly breed after their first year.


Cliff Swallows 6/17/14


Cliff Swallows are more widespread than you’d think, found all over North America, they just aren’t very common in numbers, though populations are expanding here in the east. They build their nests of mud pellets under eaves and bridges and on cliffs adjoining open country, but aren’t the swallow that burrows into sandy cliffs (that’s the Bank Swallow). In the West Cliff Swallows are often found in huge colonies, but under these East Margaree eaves is a colony of just two nests. The adult bird on the left appears to have some white in its throat right under the bill which I’ve never seen before, more typically the throat is all chestnut like the adult on the right. Juveniles are much darker, and lack the whitish forehead that distinguishes this species.


Tree Swallows 5/10/14


Swallows are pretty different in shape from other perching birds, their streamlined body and long pointed wings make them considerably more energy efficient in flight, which helps with long distance migrations. They’re cavity-nesters, taking readily to nest boxes, and are quite gregarious birds both during and after the breeding season. Typically pairs only raise one brood per year. Winter flocks have been documented containing over a million birds.


Tree Swallow swarm 8/23/13


Tree Swallows are gregarious birds, becoming even moreso after the breeding season when they gather to form large flocks for roosting and migrating. First you’ll see small flocks gather, then the small flocks become large ones like this one at Plum Island which I watched swooping and swirling like a living tornado.


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