Thursday, September 5, 2013

The North American Swallow Challenge

Tree Swallow
I sat back one day and thought, "How many more types of swallows are out there for my North American needs list?"  After reviewing my Sibleys and National Wildlife Federation guides, I found out that I need only one more.  If you are a birder, try to figure out which one it is.  If you're not a birder, which swallow is your favorite?
My first documented swallow was the Tree Swallow back in Wisconsin.  The vivid shiny blues caught my eye.  We saw our first one here in Tucson during early spring.
Bank Swallows
Bank Swallows are one the plainest of the swallows, but they have a cute look to them.  They are easy to ID by the collar or necklace around their necks.
Barn Swallows
Barn Swallows are easy to ID with their vivid marks and long scissor-like tails.
Violet-Green Swallow
But add a little green and you've got yourself a Violet-Green Swallow.  It's funny how swallows can be overlooked by birders. 
Each nest is created in slightly different ways.  This Barn Swallow above prefers to build on the sides of buildings etc.  They make a little basket.
I wasn't able to post any of these shots until I had the vast collection of photographs completed.   If you look at a lot of telephone wires, you'll find these birds hanging out.  They tend to do this early morning or late at night.
A swallow that is found all year round in Tucson is the Northern Rough-winged Swallow.
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
It's another plain brown swallow, but it's body is much bulkier in flight and reminds me of an odd shaped submarine.
Cliff Swallow
The Cliff Swallows like to build nests under bridges, etc.   They are quick to fly as are all swallows.  Again note the shorter and round tail feathers.  The wingspan is shorter and the head pattern/coloring is different.  They fly quickly and when there are hundreds of them in the sky, it can be a tricky job sorting all the birds out.
Look at the above and below shots.  One is the Cliff Swallow while the bottom is the Barn Swallow.  Maybe you can see why I'd confuse them at first glance:)
Finally, we come to the large and spectacular Purple Martin.  I was at a pool near open desert land when I saw these cool birds watching me from above.  They come to Tucson and nest in our Saguaros.
Purple Martin
They are indeed purple but can appear black in different light situations. So who am I missing?  Or who is your favorite swallow?

I still need the Cave Swallow.  They are found around southern New Mexico, Texas and Mexico. Once and awhile, one or two will fly into Arizona. I hope you enjoyed this showcase on swallows.  More to come.....


  1. Some excellent shots here. They are not easy.

  2. i only see barn swallows here but love them.

  3. Great post on the Swallows, Chris! I love the Barn swallows and the pretty Violet Green. I am hoping to see the Cave Swallow myself. Not sure when they migrate? Great photos, happy birding!

  4. They are pretty amazing little birds aren't they? I love the way they nest. Very safe.

  5. All the Swallows are so quick and hard to photograph. You, as usual, done good.

  6. I knew which one you were missing at the beginning of the blog. Same species for me as well. Nice post!

  7. Hello... I Always read your posts, but I hardly ever post. But I've always had a soft spot for barn swallows, from growing up in the Midwest. Their arial acrobatics always fascinated me. Now I'm in Texas, and its the scissortails that fascinate me.

    Great post...

  8. Chris, you and I need the same species to complete our set of swallows!

  9. It would be the "Tree Swallow" because of his blue color...

  10. HI Chris great shots as they are hard to shot. Love the Swallows

  11. You are lucky to have such a variety of swallow species over there Chris :)

    I love Swallows - such a symbol of summer for us over here :)

  12. I didn't know there were so many different swallows! I've only seen purple martins which I think are the cutest. :)

  13. Great collection of swallows, most of which I've never seen before. Amazing shots too. I enjoy watching swallows playing in the air but I've never been fortunate to capture them clearly.

  14. Wonderful birds - I've have spent more than a few hours trying to get decent picture of our species - with little success!

    The Purple Gallinule is in the same genus as my Swamphen - but they are different species.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  15. We have a lot of swallows here but I don't know what kind they are. They're cute and fun to watch. :o) Good luck finding your cave swallow!


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