Violet-green SwallowTachycineta thalassina

adult male
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult female
Joe Fuhrman/VIREO
juvenile
Laure W. Neish/VIREO
adult male
Thomas Grey/VIREO

Family

Description

A small swallow of the west, nesting from Alaska to central Mexico. Similar to the Tree Swallow in appearance and also in behavior, nesting in tree cavities and in birdhouses; it also will nest in rock crevices of cliffs in rugged terrain. Flocks are often seen flying high over mountain pine forests or over steep canyons.

Habitat

Widespread when foraging; nests in open forests, mountains, towns. During migration, often near water, as along rivers, lakes, coastline. Wide range of nesting habitats, mainly in semi-open situations, including aspen groves, pine forest, canyon walls, sometimes open prairie if nest sites exist. In Mexico, also in low desert, nesting in holes in giant cactus.

Feeding Diet

Insects. Feeds on a wide variety of flying insects, such as flies, true bugs, wasps, winged ants, wild bees, beetles, moths, and many others.

Feeding Behavior

Forages in flight, catching insects in the air. Often flies higher than other swallows, although it will feed low over ponds, especially in bad weather. Usually forages in flocks; may associate with other swallows or with White-throated Swifts.

Nesting

May nest in isolated pairs or in small colonies. Nest site is in a cavity, usually an old woodpecker hole or natural cavity in tree, sometimes in hole or crevice in rock. Will use birdhouses. In northwestern Mexico, will nest in holes in giant cactus. Nest (built by both sexes, with female doing most of work) is a cup of grass, twigs, rootlets, lined with many feathers. Eggs: 4-6, rarely 7. White. Incubation is evidently mostly or entirely by the female, about 13-18 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings, but female often does more. Young leave the nest about 23-24 days after hatching. Parents continue to feed the young for some time after they leave the nest. 1 brood per year, perhaps sometimes 2.

Eggs

4-6, rarely 7. White. Incubation is evidently mostly or entirely by the female, about 13-18 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings, but female often does more. Young leave the nest about 23-24 days after hatching. Parents continue to feed the young for some time after they leave the nest. 1 brood per year, perhaps sometimes 2.

Young

Both parents feed nestlings, but female often does more. Young leave the nest about 23-24 days after hatching. Parents continue to feed the young for some time after they leave the nest. 1 brood per year, perhaps sometimes 2.

Conservation

Numbers probably stable. Benefits in some areas from supply of artificial nest sites, including nest boxes. In other areas, may suffer from competition for nest sites with introduced starlings and House Sparrows.

Range

Migrates in flocks. Very rarely overwinters north of Mexico, except for some on California coast. Spring migration very early, returning to southwest in large numbers by February.

Listen

calls #3
calls #2
calls #1 (song

Similar Species

adult

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Two kinds of brown-backed swallows nest in holes in dirt banks. The Rough-wing is the solitary one, not nesting in colonies like the Bank Swallow. It is usually seen singly or in small groups, even during migration, in rapid low flight over rivers or fields. The name "Rough-winged" comes from small serrations on the outermost wing feathers. The function of these is unknown, but they may produce sounds during courtship flights.

adult male

Tree Swallow

The popularity of the bluebird has been a boon to the Tree Swallow, which nests in holes of exactly the same size, and has taken advantage of bluebird houses over much of North America. In regions with no such ready supply of artificial nest sites, the swallows must compete with other cavity-nesting birds, arriving early in spring to stake out territories. Unlike other swallows, Tree Swallows eat many berries (especially bayberries), allowing them to survive through wintry spells when other insect-eaters might starve.

adult male

Barn Swallow

One of our most familiar birds in rural areas and semi-open country, this swallow is often seen skimming low over fields with a flowing, graceful flight. It seems to have adopted humans as neighbors, typically placing its nest in barns or garages, or under bridges or wharves; indeed, it is now rare to find a Barn Swallow nest in a site that is not manmade. The species is also common across Europe and Asia, wintering to southern Africa and South America.

adult

Cave Swallow

As recently as the 1960s, this was a rare bird in the United States. It nested only in a few southwestern caves, plastering its cuplike mud nest against the walls in the dimly lit interior. Since then it has "learned" to nest in artificial sites, in culverts and under bridges, and it has become a common summer bird across much of Texas and southern New Mexico (with an outlying colony in Florida). In some places, Cave Swallows may actively compete with Cliff Swallows for these artificial nest sites.

adult

Cliff Swallow

This swallow is probably far more common today than when the Pilgrims landed. Originally it built its jug-shaped mud nests on the sides of cliffs. However, the sides of barns and the supports of bridges provided sheltered sites that were far more widespread than the natural ones. Taking advantage of these artificial locations, the species has invaded many areas where it never nested before. Although it is continuing to spread in the east, it is still more common in the west, where practically every culvert and highway bridge seems to have its own Cliff Swallow colony.

adult male

Purple Martin

Graceful in flight, musical in its pre-dawn singing, this big swallow is one of our most popular birds. Almost all Purple Martins in the east now nest in birdhouses put up especially for them. Martin housing has a long history: some Native American tribes reportedly hung up hollow gourds around their villages to attract these birds. Purple Martins migrate to South America for the winter, but before leaving, they may gather to roost in groups of thousands in late summer.

adult

Bank Swallow

The smallest of our swallows, the Bank Swallow is usually seen in flocks, flying low over ponds and rivers with quick, fluttery wingbeats. It nests in dense colonies, in holes in dirt or sand banks. Some of these colonies are quite large, and a tall cut bank may be pockmarked with several hundred holes. Despite their small size, tiny bills, and small feet, these swallows generally dig their own nesting burrows, sometimes up to five feet long.

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