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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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Songs

Tree Swallow songs are high-pitched and liquid, composed of three sounds—a chirp, a whine, and a gurgle—which they mix and match in a variety of patterns. Both males and females sing.

Calls

Mates call to each other with the same chirps and gurgles that also appear in their songs. In addition, Tree Swallows give aggressive chatters, shrieking alarm calls, harsh distress calls, and amorous ticking sounds.

Other Sounds

Tree Swallows may snap their bills defensively while perched, to keep other individuals from coming to close.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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.