Click here for a lovely photo of a Cliff Swallow in flight. And here‘s a lovely photo that shows the subtle and beautiful colors of the male Violet-green Swallow. Swallows are not well known for their songs. Most of them chatter and chirp as they fly in swarms. You can here a recording of Cliff Swallows here; scroll down a bit and click on “typical voice.” Find a clip of Violet-green Swallows here.
You wouldn’t likely mistake Cliff Swallows and Violet-green Swallow for each other. However, Violet-greens and Tree Swallows look quite a bit alike. In our area, Tree Swallows aren’t very common. But to be sure you’re looking at a Violet-green, look for white on the face that reaches above the eye. (With a Tree Swallow, the eye can be hard to see because the face around it is dark.) Also, Violet-greens have small patches of white that can be glimpsed on either side of the tail, stretching a bit onto the back (kind of like saddle bags, which they are sometimes referred to as). Tree Swallows have completely dark backs—no glimpsed of white at all.
Cliff Swallows are pretty much dependent on a nearby water source for breeding. Here‘s a close-up view of some Cliff Swallow nests. Keep in mind that “nearby” to a swallow can be quite a ways—they are expert fliers. Also, a water source can be something as simple as a creek, such as the Hamilton Creek near the swallow nests on the Coaldale Fire House. Mostly, they need access to water to create and repair their mud nests. Violet-greens, though, are not dependent on water in that way. You’ll see them chattering above the Arkansas River along with the Cliff Swallows. During migration, they travel along waterways like the Arkansas. But once they settle in, they’re there to eat the many insects that can be found there. Violet-greens can and typically do nest in much drier environments. As I mentioned in the full article, we host many breeding Violet-green pairs in the nest boxes on our very dry, pinyon/juniper habitat. Click here to see some photos of the nestlings we’ve hosted in the past.
Some people think that swallows help with mosquito control, since they eat flying insects. But swallows are primarily on the prowl during daylight hours, when mosquitoes are less likely to be flying. (For insect control, nothing beats the night-flying bats!) Nevertheless, without swallows, we would be drowning or suffocating in flying insects. One study estimated that a particular Barn Swallow made an average of 29 visits to its nest to feed nestlings each hour of daylight—that would be over 400 trips a day! The parent gathers small insects in flight, compresses them into a pellet in its throat, and deposits the pellet in a nestling’s mouth. Each pellet can contain as many as 20 insects and weighs on average about 70 mg. So each day, one Barn Swallow can remove 28 grams of insects from the environment—nearly 800 grams over a month of feeding nestlings and fledglings. And this doesn’t even take into account the many insects they eat themselves!