Swallows in your area? Here’s how to identify them

Swallows belong to the “Hirundinidae” (pronounced Hir-un-din-i-dae) or “songbird” family. This bird family consists of 90 different species. They can be referred to terns, martins, or woodswallows; all are located in different parts of the world. The swallow is small, with narrow pointed wings, short bills, and small feet. Unlike other species of birds where the appearance drastically changes by gender; you will find that the swallow remains similar despite the sexes of the birds. Their feathers can be plain or a metallic blue or green. Now since going over 90 different birds might take a while I will go over a few that you can find here in North America. 

The Tree Swallow 

The Tree swallow like many other birds will breed up north then fly down south for winter. It isn’t common for these swallow birds to stay in one spot for all seasons, since winter months in the northern parts of our region become scarce on insects. You can find them near bodies of water such as ponds, marshes or lakes. They can also be spotted in open or semi-open country areas. Meadows or anywhere that is a good source of flying insects are sure to have swallow bird nearby. The swallow bird species mainly forages in flight. They will also eat berries and in colder weather will feed off the ground. When male swallows are trying to find their mate for breeding season they will arrive to the nesting territory early so he can show her potential sites. They will use bird houses for their nests but more commonly holes in trees, old nests, or holes in the ground. The nest is mainly built by the female swallow. You can identify these bird by the pure white underparts and either greenish or blueish-blackish color on their back. 

The Barn Swallow 

Much like the Tree swallow you can find the Barn swallow bird in similar areas. You will find them near water and where insects thrive. They typically avoid dry country and unbroken forest. They also breed around towns, buildings, and farms. Their underparts are a rusty color while their backs are a metallic bluish-black. They also have a forked tail that has white spots on it. Their tail continues to grow larger into adulthood. When its breeding season for this swallow bird courtship involves an aerial chase. The mated pair will sit close together, preen each other’s feather, and touch bills. Although they can nest in the same area as other swallows the barn swallow doesn’t form dense colonies. They like natural sites when it’s time to build their nest. Sheltered holes in cliffs or shallow caves. They will even use buildings, or places under bridge’s and docks. The nest is built by both sexes. You can find this bird across the states despite the season.  

The Cave Swallow 

If you live up north don’t bother looking for this swallow bird! The cave swallow is only found down south primarily in Texas and Mexico; however you can find them in some other southern states. These birds forage over many open terrains and like the other stays near water. Often eating their insects almost entirely in flight they also forage in flocks. The Cave swallow bird usually nests in colonies, often with hundreds of pairs. Given away by their name, they usually create their nests in the wall of a cave or sinkhole. They may also nest in ancient Mayan temples if they are in the Yucatan Peninsula. Under bridges or in buildings is common as well. Both sexes of this swallow build their nest which is made from mud of the cave bottom. It will also contain a lot of bat excrement; it will be lined with bark fibers, feather, and grasses. The underparts of this bird are a medium brownish color, while their head is light orange with a patch of chestnut brown.


No matter which part of North America you live in I’m sure you can find a swallow bird somewhere. Swallows are beautiful birds that come in a plethora of colors. Each species having their own unique ways of mating, foraging, nest building, etc. make them all the move interesting to observe. If you think a species of swallow could be living in your area buy a bird house, watching the swallow in the comfort of your own back yard can make the experience all the more enjoyable.

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