Getting to Know — Tree Swallows

Tree Swallows are among my favorite birds, always delighting in observing their aerial acrobatics in fast pursuit of insects, rapidly twisting and turning thru the air dashing here, there, and everywhere on late summer afternoons and evenings.

The Tree Swallow (tachycineta bicolor) is one of the most beautiful of the swallow family, with deep-blue, iridescent backs and clean white fronts.  With their steely, bluish-green feathers flashing in the sunlight, Tree Swallows make a most striking appearance and display as they chase thru the air in pursuit of insect food for their families.

Tree Swallows do not build open, free-form nests of dead grass, leaves, sticks and twigs like many birds, but rather only nest inside cavities, such as old woodpecker holes in trees.  With such natural places in limited supply, nesting sites like these are scarce and at a premium in the spring, on a first-come, first-served basis, with intense competition with everyone looking for a home in which to raise a family.  But fortunately, Tree Swallows also adapt readily to nesting boxes.

You can help the Tree Swallows in your neighborhood by putting out nesting boxes in your backyard.  The birds are a great addition to a backyard or field and will reward you, as many birds and bats do, by regularly patrolling and keeping insects under control and at bay all summer long.

The average adult Tree Swallow consumes 2,000 insects each day during the 45 day nesting period, while also catching approximately 6,000 insects per day to feed to their nestlings over their twenty day stay in the nestbox. Overall, this adds up to about 300,000 insects per family over the 45 day span. Since most of their hunting takes place under a height of 39 feet, that is potentially a lot of insects not pestering you in the backyard over the summer.

That is a good return on the purchase, or for a few boards and time invested in building a nest box. And then you and your family will also be able to enjoy observing these beautiful birds going about their business darting and dashing thru the air and raising their young thru the whole season.

For more information on Tree Swallows, please visit the Tree Swallow Nesting Project and Building Nesting Boxes for some easy how-to guides.

Thanks as always for visiting.  If you have stories or experience with these beautiful birds or helping them with nest boxes at your home, please feel free to share with us in the comments.  —  Jim (and Red!)

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9 thoughts on “Getting to Know — Tree Swallows

    • Thanks for visiting, Cat. I have a very good Facebook friend who is a serious birder living in Fort Ashby, West Virginia. She actually published a book a couple years ago on her study of Barn Swallows, and put up a nesting box year before last and observed Tree Swallows nesting in it the last two seasons, along with families of bluebirds in another box. So, keep an eye out. I find the best time to see swallows is late afternoon when they are chasing thru the air, not too far above ground level, after insects. Their distinguishing characteristic in flight (because they fly and swoop so fast) is their very forked tail. 🙂

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  1. Hi James! What a lovely post and you’re pictures are awesome! (especially the little guy peeking through the birdhouse hole!) This reminded me of a book I wrote about my son (but he was Jaybird) .Thanks for the trip down memory lane. It amazes me that the Mama eats so much during the nesting period…and I though butterflies were little munching machines!

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      • Technically, it has been said that the perfect sized box for Tree Swallows would be a little larger than the Walmart “Classic Cedar Birdhouse”. The hole size is perfect, but sometimes the baby Tree Swallows might get a little cramped because Tree Swallows often lay more eggs than Bluebirds. But, given the convenience and the $10 price, it seems it would be a good choice for those (like me) who have no carpentry expertise!

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  2. What a lovely and well written piece, just as lovely as the Tree Swallows themselves — gifts from Heaven, I like to call them! For those who are not able to build a nest box, all you have to do is purchase a “Classic Cedar Birdhouse” from Walmart for only $10. It has a picture of a Bluebird on front of it, but it is fine for Tree Swallows. The difficult part — IMO VERY difficult — is mounting the box. There are all sorts of “rules” on where to place and how to mount the box, the most recommended being on a thin pole to help protect the nesting birds and babies from predators. More at http://nestwatch.org/learn/all-about-birdhouses/nest-box-placement/, including a table that lists Tree Swallows.

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