Tree Swallow

Common Name: Tree Swallow.

Scientific Name: Tachycineta Bicolor.

What to look for?  Tree Swallows are darling aerialists with deep-blue shimmering backs and white fronts. These small songbirds have long, pointed wings. Their tails are short, squared and slightly notched. And they have very short, flat bills. Females are duller with more brown in their backs. And juvenile Tree Swallows are completely brown above.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? Seasonally, Tree Swallows are here from March through August at any of our ponds. Visualize a squadron of avian “Blue Angels” in acrobatic flight chasing after flying insects skimming the surface of these ponds. They soar over our ponds in large groups - typically from six or more. They move swiftly and with great agility - avoiding each other as they search for food on the pond’s surface. And they put on this show two or three times each day!

How big are they? The Tree Swallow is a small bird. Their average length is 5 ½ inches. They have a wingspan of approximately 12 inches. And they weigh in at only 3/4 of an ounce.

What are their flight patterns? Tree Swallows are very agile fliers. Their flight style is called "Flap-gliding" where short bursts of flapping are alternated with intervals in which the wings are extended in a glide. Using another analogy, this squadron of birds bears resemblance to “StarFighters” of the Star Wars series. They chase after flying insects with gliding, acrobatic twists and turns. Their steely blue-green feathers will glisten in the sunlight as they dart across Carillon Stonegate Pond. Tree Swallows tend to glide more than any other swallow species. They also “bathe” by flying low over the water and skimming their bodies against the surface.

How else do they behave? Tree Swallows are highly social. They reside in small groups around our ponds. They form much larger migratory flocks. Migrating and wintering Tree Swallows can form enormous flocks numbering in the hundreds of thousands. You may have seen photos of these flocks, forming a dense cloud at dusk above a roost site - swirling around like a living tornado. And with each pass, more birds drop down until they are all settled on the roost.

What’s for dinner? Bugs! Tree Swallows live primarily on a diet of insects. They eat all kinds of flying insects, including dragonflies, damselflies, flies, mayflies, caddisflies, true bugs, sawflies, bees, ants, wasps, beetles, stoneflies, butterflies, and moths. They feed from dawn to dusk. As seasons change and insects become less available, Tree Swallows will eat berries and seeds.

Where do they take up residence? Tree Swallows are a familiar sight in summer fields and wetlands across northern North America. In North America, the tree swallow breeds from Alaska east to Newfoundland, Canada and south to California, Colorado, Nebraska and Maryland. It winters to the south in southern California, the Gulf Coast and the Carolinas. And as their name suggests, they take up residence in tree cavities.

Where do they breed and nest? Tree Swallows breed in fields, marshes, shorelines, wooded swamps, and ponds throughout northern North America. They prefer to live near bodies of water that produce multitudes of flying insects for food. Tree Swallows nest in natural cavities of standing dead trees, old woodpecker cavities, or nest boxes.

Where do they migrate? Yes, they are seasonal travelers. Tree Swallows begin migrating south in July and August, flying during the day and roosting in large flocks at night. Eastern populations probably migrate along the Atlantic coast to winter in Florida and Central America. Populations from the Midwest and the Canadian prairies may follow the Mississippi River southward.

What is their conservation status? There is low concern. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Tree Swallow has seen slight decreases in populations. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 19 million.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Tree Swallows are quite vocal making sweet, chirping calls as they wheel around overhead in pursuit of insects. Here is a link to the sounds of the Tree Swallow.

Interesting Facts About the Tree Swallow:

  • Migrating and wintering Tree Swallows can form enormous flocks numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

  • The Tree Swallow gets its name from its habit of nesting in tree cavities.

  • Tree Swallows have helped researchers make major advances in several branches of ecology.

  • The oldest Tree Swallow on record was at least 12 years.

For more information on Tree Swallow and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds and Audubon Society.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.

 

Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!