Thursday, April 18, 2013

Native Species Profile - Tree Swallow

On Monday (15 APR) I saw my first Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) of the year.  They were busy investigating the nest boxes at the Saginaw Chippewa Academy. 

Tree Swallow on nest box (May 2012) - photo by Shara LeValley

Tree Swallows are small cavity-nesting birds.  They range in size from 4.5 to 6 inches long, with a 12 to 14 inch wingspan.  They nest in natural cavities in trees and will readily use nest boxes.  I have also seen them nesting in the hollow steel support beams of a bridge.

Tree Swallows can be found throughout most of North America in a variety of habitats.  They are most common around wetlands where there are abundant numbers of flying insects, but they are also commonly found in open habitats.  They often congregate in large flocks especially when there is abundant food.

A large flock of Tree Swallows (and other swallows) at Forest Hill Nature Area

Flying insects are the preferred food of Tree Swallows.  Their prey can range in size from almost invisible midges to large dragonflies.  Most of their food is captured on the wing, but they will also land on the ground to hunt beetles, ants, and spiders.  If insects are unavailable, Tree Swallows will occasionally eat fruit.

Tree Swallows are easily identified by their coloration and behavior.  They are an iridescent blue above and white below.  Males are brighter than females- the female may have a green tint.  Young tree swallows are also duller than adults.  Like all swallows they glide swiftly through the air, performing changes of directions and other aerobatic maneuvers with little apparent effort.

Male (left) and female (right) Tree Swallows

Basic Information

Tree Swallow 
Tachycineta bicolor

Size:  4 ½-6” long,
          12-14” wingspan

Habitat:  open areas near water and fields, shorelines

Eats:  flying insects, other insects, berries

Nest:  in tree cavity or nest box

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