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Tree Swallow

Tachycineta bicolor ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: HIRUNDINIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Handsome aerialists with deep-blue iridescent backs and clean white fronts, Tree Swallows are a familiar sight in summer fields and wetlands across northern North America. They chase after flying insects with acrobatic twists and turns, their steely blue-green feathers flashing in the sunlight. Tree Swallows nest in tree cavities; they also readily take up residence in nest boxes. This habit has allowed scientists to study their breeding biology in detail, and makes them a great addition to many a homeowner’s yard or field.

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Keys to identification Help

Swallows
Swallows
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Tree Swallows are streamlined small songbirds with long, pointed wings and a short, squared or slightly notched tail. Their bills are very short and flat.

  • Color Pattern

    Adult males are blue-green above and white below with blackish flight feathers and a thin black eye mask; females are duller with more brown in their upperparts, and juveniles are completely brown above. Juveniles and some females can show a weak, blurry gray-brown breast band.

  • Behavior

    Tree Swallows feed on small, aerial insects that they catch in their mouths during acrobatic flight. After breeding, Tree Swallows gather in large flocks to molt and migrate. In the nonbreeding season, they form huge communal roosts.

  • Habitat

    Tree Swallows breed in open habitats such as fields and wetlands, usually adjacent to water. They nest in artificial nest boxes as well as tree cavities. Foraging flocks are frequently seen over wetlands, water, and agricultural fields.

Range Map Help

Tree Swallow Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult male

    Tree Swallow

    Adult male
    • Stocky, short-tailed swallow
    • Long, slender wings
    • Dark above, bright white below
    • © Andy Johnson, Scio Church & Parker Rds., Washtenaw County, Michigan, April 2010
  • Adult male

    Tree Swallow

    Adult male
    • Stocky swallow with long, pointed wings
    • Relatively large-headed
    • Male shows iridescent blue-green above
    • Bright white below
    • © Brian Kushner, Bombay Hook NWR, Whitehall Landing, Delaware, March 2011
  • Adult female (left) and male (right)

    Tree Swallow

    Adult female (left) and male (right)
    • Stocky, short-tailed swallows
    • Dark above and bright white below
    • Males show glossy blue-green above
    • Older females show some iridescence, but generally duller than males
    • © Cameron Rognan, Kern River Preserve, Weldon, California, June 2007
  • Adult male

    Tree Swallow

    Adult male
    • Stocky swallow with long, slender wings
    • Short, squared tail
    • Males show iridescent blue-green above
    • Bright white below
    • © Eddie Y, Flushing Meadows, Corona, New York, May 2011
  • Adult male

    Tree Swallow

    Adult male
    • Stocky and long-winged
    • Bright, glossy blue-green above
    • Snowy white underparts
    • Tiny black bill
    • © Joe Povenz, Holland, Michigan, May 2011
  • Juvenile

    Tree Swallow

    Juvenile
    • Stocky and long-winged
    • Short, squared tail
    • Dusky above, white below
    • Yellow gape at base of bill
    • © Mike Wisnicki, Grand Forks, British Columbia, Canada, July 2010
  • Adult female

    Tree Swallow

    Adult female
    • Stocky swallow with long, slender wings
    • Short tail
    • Females dark above with some patches of blue/green iridescence
    • White below
    • © Kirch Meier, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, May 2012
  • Immature female

    Tree Swallow

    Immature female
    • Stocky swallow with long, slender wings
    • Younger females are mostly dusky gray-brown above
    • Bright white below
    • Tiny black bill
    • © Barbara Lynne, Kwartha Lakes, Ontario, Canada, April 2012
  • Adult female

    Tree Swallow

    Adult female
    • Stocky, large-headed swallow
    • Long, pointed wings
    • Females dusky above with patches of glossy blue/green
    • © Jim Paris, May 2009

Similar Species

Similar Species

Bank Swallows are slightly smaller than Tree Swallows and always brown above with a solid dark breast band. Northern Rough-winged Swallows are brown above, unlike the gleaming steely blue of adult Tree Swallows. Rough-wings also have dingy brownish throats unlike the stark white underparts of Tree Swallows. Adult Violet-green Swallows of the West have a white cheek and white behind the eye, instead of the Tree Swallow’s neat dark head and white throat. In good light, Violet-green Swallows also show green backs and purple rumps. Barn Swallows are slimmer than Tree Swallows with a long, forked tail. Cliff Swallows have a prominent buffy rump patch, a reddish throat, and a bright buffy forehead patch. Purple Martins are larger than Tree Swallows; males are glossy purple-blue all over, while females and immatures are dingy gray-white below rather than the Tree Swallows’ bright white. Swifts such as the Chimney Swift and Vaux’s Swift are easy to confuse with swallows at first—but notice their smaller, all-dark bodies, longer, narrower, more curved wings, and very stiff-winged flying style (with almost no bending at the wrist).

Backyard Tips

Tree Swallows may supplement their insect diet with berries, such as fruit from bayberry and myrica shrubs. During the breeding season, when they need extra calcium to produce eggs, the swallows may search through backyard compost piles for pieces of eggshells to eat.

If you live in their breeding range, there’s a good chance you can attract Tree Swallows to your yard by putting up a nest box. Make sure you put it up well before breeding season. Attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young. Find out more about nest boxes on our Attract Birds pages. You'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site.

Find This Bird

Tree Swallows are easy to find in much of North America from spring through fall. Head to open fields or marshes adjacent to bodies of freshwater. Scan the air for flying birds, look along utility wires and shrubs for perched birds. Also check any nest boxes you happen to see; in summer Tree Swallows spend lots of time sitting on or flying around them. Tree Swallows are vocal; listen for their sweet, chirping calls as they wheel around overhead in pursuit of insects. In the winter you can find Tree Swallows in the extreme southeastern and southwestern United States as well as south of the border.

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Tree Swallow Farmer: a Cornell researcher's 22-year fascination with swallows. Story and photos in Living Bird magazine.