Swallow, a large family of insect-eating birds. Swallows are found in almost all parts of the world and are migratory. There are about 80 species, including martins.Swallows are among the first birds to return north in spring.
Swallows usually migrate in large flocks. They migrate during the day and roost overnight. The swallows are among the first birds to return north in spring. The Mission of San Juan Capistrano, near Los Angeles, is known for its cliff swallows, which return regularly each spring.
Swallows are from about four to nine inches (10 to 23 cm) long, and have long, powerful, graceful wings. In many species, the tail is deeply forked. Their small, weak feet are more suitable for perching and clinging than for walking. The small bills open wide to catch insects in mid-air. Plumage is usually dark above, often with a metallic sheen, and lighter below. Swallows and swifts look very much alike but are not related.
Swallows often live in large colonies. Their nesting habits vary greatly with the species. The three to seven eggs are whitish, or white with brown spots. The usual sound made by swallows is a twittering or squeak.
A swallow is a songbird with a big mouth. This bird’s mouth is perfect for catching insects, such as mosquitoes. As a swallow flies, it opens its mouth wide and scoops up many insects—all at once. While flying, the swallow can also swoop down for a mouthful of water from a lake or a pond.
You might think that a swallow, with its big mouth, would have a loud song. But it does not. Swallows tend to twitter, or chirp, when they sing. A swallow’s call sounds like “Cheat, cheat.”
Barn swallows may be the most widespread of all songbirds. They live in North America, South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. The barn swallow is known for its mud nests, which it builds in barns and other buildings.
The fork-tailed barn swallow is found practically throughout the world. It has blue upper parts and a chestnut breast. Barn swallows commonly build their mud-and-grass nests on beams or rafters in barns and other buildings.
The tree swallow, found in temperate regions of North and South America, is iridescent blue above and white below. Its tail is only slightly notched. It nests in holes of trees or in nesting boxes. The cliff, or eave, swallow resembles the tree swallow but has a reddish rump. Its jug-shaped nest of mud pellets is lined with grass and feathers and is built in the eaves of a building, such as a barn, or on a sheltered cliff. Cliff swallows nest in large colonies.
The bank swallow, found throughout the world, is grayish-brown, with white under-parts and a brown band across the breast. It usually nests along a riverbank in a hole that it digs in the sand or in a clay cliff. The rough-winged swallow, similar in habits and appearance to the bank swallow, has a grayish-brown breast and curved wing feathers. It is found in North and South America.
Swallows form the family Hirundinidae. The barn swallow is Hirundo rustica; the tree swallow, Iridoprocne bicolor; the cliff swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota; the bank swallow, Riparia riparia; and the rough-winged swallow, Stelgidopteryx ruficollis.