Swallows: Pictures and Identification Help

The eight species that appear across the United States winter in South and Central America and migrate to the United States to breed. When they appear you know it’s spring. Most areas of the United States host a couple of different species because of their inclination to use a variety of habitats. A couple of species, such as the Tree Swallow in the top video and the Purple Martin can be enticed to nest boxes, often returning yearly. Many build mud nests, and their common names partially identify their habitat preferences.

Contrary to many bird species, male and female swallows look alike. They are insectivores that dart around picking off insects in the air around them. Fortunately, they also perch on trees, branches, telephone wires and other platforms taking a break from eating and flying, making them amenable to pictures and photography.

Here we provide a brief run down of the species to help with identification. The Tree Sparrow is fairly easy to identify in its blue and black top feathers and white belly feathers. Please press the green birds button to learn more about additional species.

picture of a bank swallow
Bank swallow populations in the United States have declined over the past few decades. Their range extends across most of the Northern Hemisphere. The name bank refers to sandy soils that they burrow into for nests and the picture shows the most drab looking of the family with dark feathers on the back and white feathers on the front. They tend to be colonial nesters.

picture of a Northern Rough-winged Swallow
The Northern Rough-winged Swallow looks and acts similar to the Bank Swallow. It’s coat of feathers is a rather drab brown and white. It uses sandy soils to build nests. Most people actually see the Northern Rough-winged Swallow because it breeds across the entire country, anywhere that adequate water and soils are available, including roadsides. Unlike the Bank Swallow, they are solitary or small group breeders.

picture of a Barn Swallow
The next three pictures, Barn Swallows, Cliff Swallows and Cave Swallows share physical similarities such as rust, blue and white feathers. Fortunately Barn Swallows not only abound in the United States,they also abound around the world. Only a small patch of rusty feathers covers the throat and the extended tale, tells the remainder of their physical tail.

They actually do nest inside barns, along with other buildings, including some found in cities.

picture of a cliff swallow, swallows
Think San Juan Capistrano when you think Cliff Swallows. It’s a beautiful seaside town in Southern California that celebrates the arrival of the Cliff Swallows from Argentina during March. While the name Cliff Swallows suggests they nest in cliffs, they also build nests under bridges and awnings. Their nest building flexibility helps make for an extended range. Except for the Southeast and a small portion of the Southwest, they breed across the country in fairly large colonies. Note the rust color of the feathers around the face.

picture of a cave swallow, swallows
It nested only in a few southwestern caves, plastering its cuplike mud nest … across much of Texas and southern New Mexico. Fairly common in northern Mexico and on the Yucatan peninsula, with numbers increasing dramatically in Texas. Also occurs in the Caribbean, where birds are richer orange on the throat, rump, and sides. Sometimes nests in caves, but also frequently found under bridges and other human-made structures. Small colony in Florida

picture of a Violet Green Swallow, swallows
Violet-green Swallows, a Western species, prefer open woodlands for nesting. Because many residential areas are build around open woodlands, some of them can even take to nesting boxes. Green head feathers make them easy to identify.

picture of a purple martin and a nest box
Purple Martins break the physical mold for migrating swallows because the males can be a stunning purple color with the females a more tame purple and dull with patterns on the underside. They are eastern birds and their populations were in decline and a big effort was made to introduce nesting boxes to help them recover. The picture shows a sort of condominium nesting box because they are also colony nesters. If one nests in the box, you can be sure that others will also nest.