For the Birds: The Swallows are back!

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Barn Swallow note the long forked tail
stock photo
By Christine Southwick

Every spring Tree Swallows, Violet-green Swallows, Barn Swallows and Northern Rough-winged swallows wend their way back to our neighborhoods. 

They usually start showing up here in the March-April timeframe. Their early morning chattering, while they are waiting for the bugs to rouse, and the dizzyingly fast movements of these aerial foragers is a clear sign that they are back!

Tree Swallow stock photo
These bug-eating machines are a delight to watch as they zoom overhead catching all sorts of flying bugs. 

Swallows are gregarious birds and will usually be seen pursuing their bug meals with several others, often mixed swallow species, all darting, turning, and reversing their courses without colliding with one another. 

Here near water and open areas, it is common to see Violet-green Swallows and Tree Swallows hunting in the same areas. 

Barn Swallows can often be found flying with these birds, especially at Green Lake. Northern Rough-winged Swallows are also in the area, more often in areas where there are sandy banks suitable for nesting.

Tree Swallow feeding young. stock photo
Violet-green Swallows and Tree Swallows are cavity nesters and will use old woodpecker holes in dead and dying trees. They will use nest boxes if suitably located in an area with few branches.

Violet-green usually have 4-6 eggs, Tree Swallows 4-6, and Barn Swallows have evolved into using man made structures onto which they mud nests for their 4-5 eggs. Northern Rough-winged Swallows use sandy banks in which to nest.

On the wing, Violet-green Swallows have white patches visible below their backs—birders have nick-named this diagnostic clue as “saddlebags”—Tree Swallows do not have these patches. Barn Swallows have long forked tails which none of our other local swallows have.

Violet-green Swallow stock photo
The violet is hard to see on a flying swallow
The easiest way to ID individual species in these mixed flocks is to look at telephone lines or fences passing through wetland and open areas.

Because of wide use of insecticides/pesticides these aerial insectivores are declining, often unable to find enough bugs to sustain their populations. 

Pesticides drift and fertilizers make their way into streams and lakes contaminating otherwise healthy bird, bee, and wildlife environments. 

It has been documented that lawn fertilizers applied by homeowners have been detected in OUR local streams, lakes, and the sound. 

Please find other healthier ways to have pretty yards (vinegar is an effective weed killer). I will thank you, and so will our birds, bees, beavers, otters, and other critters.


Wendy DiPeso June 17, 2021 at 6:20 PM  

Pesticides and weed and feed chemicals are also toxic to pets and toddlers. Anyone with kids and pets would do well to get rid of weeds with white vinegar and old fashion pulling if they want to keep their charges healthy and cancer free.

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