04.04.21: Tree Swallow calling

Tree Swallows are very social birds and can form flocks of hundreds of thousands of birds during migration.

Aerial acrobat protects its space on stem

I know that winter is over and better weather is coming when I see the first Tree Swallow in the fields in Central Ohio.

The birds are hard to miss as they do their aerial acrobatics while chasing flying insects. They will quickly change speed or direction, suddenly dive or at times stop and hover mid-flight to grab their meal.

During the rare moments when they aren’t in flight you can see Tree Swallows engage in lively debates over perching rights. They will call at each other and flap their wings whenever a newcomer lands nearby.

I grabbed this photo a Tree Swallow perched on a plant stem in June 2013. There were a number of Tree Swallows flying in the area that morning, which isn’t unusual because Tree Swallows are very social birds and can form flocks of hundreds of thousands of birds during migration. One kept flying close to where this bird was perched so the perched swallow opened its beak to warn the visitor about invading its personal space.

Adult males are blue-green above and white below. Females are duller with more brown in their upper parts.

During the spring breeding season the Tree Swallows are in a never-ending battle with Eastern Bluebirds over nesting spots. Both species are cavity dwellers, making homes in hollow trees or in nesting boxes, so the many bluebird nesting boxes erected by naturalists to help revive the bluebird population can become Tree Swallow nesting boxes. If you spend time watching a nesting box on a spring day you will likely see control change dozens of times until one species establishes its nest.

I mentioned the fact that Tree Swallows are aerial acrobats when chasing the insects they eat. The same acrobatics comes into play when they bathe or build nests. When bathing, a Tree Swallow flies low over the water and skims along the surface before rising quickly to dry by shaking off droplets. Nest building can turn into a bit of a game. According to the web site All About Birds, "Tree Swallows line their nests with feathers, and they seem to display or even play with these feathers during the early nesting season. A bird flies above the nest with a feather held in its bill; sometimes this leads to chases, and sometimes the bird drops the feather, causing an aerial free-for-all to see which bird retrieves it.”

A Tree Swallow calls above a field, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

A Tree Swallow calls above a field, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

Tech specs

  • Date/time: Jun 15, 2013 9:27 AM   
  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D
  • Lens: EF600mm f/4L IS USM +1.4x 
  • Focal length: 840mm
  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • Shutter: 1/500 second
  • ISO: 400