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Tree Swallow

(Tachycineta bicolor)
Banded May 25, 1998 - Carmel, Indiana

General Information

The attractive Tree Swallow breeds over most of North America, and winters in the extreme southern US and Central America as far south as Honduras. They spend their days coursing over meadows, ponds, rivers, and lawns at about 19 to 25 mph snatching up flies, ants, beetles, bees, wasps, grasshoppers and other insects. They also eat weed seeds and bayberries. It is one of the most aggressive of the swallows, and the male will defend a relatively large territory around the nest site.

 

The adult male is metallic blue with a greenish sheen on the upper side. Under parts are pure white.

Male Tree Swallow
Figure 1 - Male Tree Swallow

 

Female Tree Swallow
Figure 2 - Female Tree Swallow

 

The adult female is similar to the male, but a bit more dull in color.

The female Tree Swallow is the only female North American passerine that retains her immature plumage into her first breeding season and sometimes into her second. (Stokes & Stokes 1996). Her immature plumage is quite brownish, but may show some blue-green on the back and wings (Turner & Rose 1989).

 

 Breeding Female with Immature Plumage
Figure 3 - Breeding Female with Immature Plumage

Tree Swallow Nest
Figure 4 - Tree Swallow Nest

 

The nest is constructed of dry grasses and twigs lined with large feathers. The female does most of the nest construction, but the male collects the large feathers.

From 4 - 6 white eggs, incubated by the female, hatch in about 13-16 days.

Tree Swallow Eggs
Figure 5 - Tree Swallow Eggs

 

 Tree Swallow Chicks
Figure 6 - Tree Swallow Chicks

 

The young are born blind. Both parents feed the young who leave the nest in 16 to 24 days.

The adult female plumage is similar to the male but a bit duller.

Adult Female Tree Swallow
Figure 7 - Adult Female Tree Swallow

 

Primary Flight Feathers
Figure 8 - Primary Flight Feathers

 

Flight feathers are sooty black but with a slight greenish tinge.

Tail feathers of the adult female are sooty black. The tail is only slightly forked.

Female Tree Swallow Tail Feathers
Figure 9 - Female Tree Swallow Tail Feathers

 

Tree Swallow Leg
Figure 10 - Tree Swallow Leg

 

The legs are short but the feet are well developed for grasping.

Banding Recoveries

The Bird Banding Lab web site reports that between 1955 to 1997, a total of 446,653 Tree Swallows were banded. Of these, 3,811 have been recovered, a recovery rate of 0.85%. Banding studies show that Tree Swallows are short distance migrants, and may live from to 6 to 9 years in the wild. If you should recover a banded bird, report the band number to the Bird Banding Lab by calling 1-800-327-BAND.

Conservation

Tree Swallow populations have suffered with the clearing of forests and associated nest cavities. Competition with House Sparrows and Starlings has further impacted Tree Swallow populations. The use of pesticides and the resulting reduction of insects has also contributed to their decline. Unusually cold weather during the nesting season also reduces the availability of insects and can lead to starvation of young and adults. Fortunately, Tree Swallows readily accept artificial nest cavities, and have benefited from the placement of Bluebird nest boxes. Their populations are doing well in many regions, but in some regions declines are still occurring.

Literature Cited

Stokes, D. and L. Stokes. 1996. Stokes field guide to birds. Little Brown & Co., Boston.

Turner, A. and C. Rose. 1989. Swallows and Martins. An identification guide and handbook. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston.

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