Bank SwallowRiparia riparia

adult
Laure W. Neish/VIREO
juvenile
Greg Lasley/VIREO
adult
Arthur Morris/VIREO
nest
Greg Lasley/VIREO
Bank Swallow
Bank Swallow

Family

Description

4 3/4-5 1/2" (12-14 cm). Sparrow-sized; our smallest swallow. Brown above, dull white below; breast crossed by distinct brown band; tail notched. Northern Rough-winged Swallow is warmer brown, with dusky throat and without brown breast band.

Voice

Sharp, unmusical pret or trit-trit.

Listen

calls of flock
calls

Habitat

Banks of rivers, creeks, and lakes; seashores.

Range

Breeds from Alaska across northern Canada south to California, Texas, and Virginia. Winters in tropics. Also in Old World.

Discussion

Bank Swallows originally nested only in steep, sandy riverbanks, but, like other swallows, they have adapted to humans and now nest in the sides of man-made excavations. They breed in colonies of from two or three pairs to a few thousand. Most lay their eggs at the same time and thus later forage for their young at the same time. Such parents have an advantage: Swarms of flying insects are unevenly distributed and are more quickly located when many birds are searching together. The scientific name riparia is from the Latin word for "riverbank."

Nesting

4-6 white eggs in a grass and feather nest in a chamber at the end of a deep tunnel, which it digs near the top of a steep bank. Since it breeds in large colonies, nesting banks may sometimes appear riddled with holes.

Similar Species

adult

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

5-5 3/4" (13-15 cm). Pale brown above, white below, with dingy brown throat. Bank Swallow is similar, but smaller, and has white throat and brown breast band.

adult male

Tree Swallow

5-6 1/4"(13-16 cm). Sparrow-sized. Metallic blue or blue-green above and clear white below.

adult male

Violet-green Swallow

5-5 1/2" (13-14 cm). Dark, metallic, bronze-green upperparts; iridescent violet rump and tail, the latter slightly forked; white underparts.

adult male

Barn Swallow

5 3/4-7 3/4" (15-20 cm). Sparrow-sized. Our most familiar swallow, and the only one with a deeply forked tail. Upperparts dark steel-blue, underparts buff, throat and forehead rusty.

adult

Cave Swallow

5 1/2" (14 cm). A stocky swallow with a square tail, steel-blue upperparts, buff throat and rump, and chestnut forehead.

adult

Cliff Swallow

5-6" (13-15 cm). Sparrow-sized. A stocky, square-tailed swallow with pale buff rump. Upperparts dull steel-blue; underparts buff-white; throat dark chestnut; forehead white.

adult male

Purple Martin

7-8 1/2" (18-22 cm). Our largest swallow. Adult male dark steel-blue. Female and immature male duller above, pale gray below.

Vireo

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