Skip to main content

Northern Rough-winged Swallow Life History


Rivers and Streams

Northern Rough-winged Swallows forage in open areas often near water, from sea level to around 6,500 feet. In Mexico and Central America they forage in lowlands and foothills along rivers and lakes and above agricultural fields.

Back to top



Northern Rough-winged Swallows feed over water taking small flying insects in midair or occasionally picking them from the water's surface.

Back to top


Nest Placement


Northern Rough-winged Swallows nest in burrows created by other animals—such as kingfishers, squirrels, and Bank Swallows—in clay, sand, or gravel banks, typically near water. They also nest in crevices found in gutters, boxes, drainpipes, walls, and bridges. They nest singly or in small groups often at the edge of a Bank Swallow colony.

Nest Description

Females pick up grass, twigs, and other plant material from the ground to build a loose cup-shaped nest inside a burrow or crevice. Nesting burrows are mostly commonly 11–40 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:4-8 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:0.7-0.8 in (1.8-1.9 cm)
Egg Width:0.5 in (1.3 cm)
Incubation Period:16-17 days
Nestling Period:17-22 days
Egg Description:White.
Condition at Hatching:

Naked and helpless with sparse down.

Back to top


Aerial Forager

Northern Rough-winged Swallows fly with slower and more deliberate, but fluttery wingbeats than other swallows. During glides they tend to hold their wings straight out from the body with less of a bend in the wing than the similar Bank Swallow. They fly lower over water bodies and often use areas that have more trees or other obstructions than other swallows. During the breeding season, they are less social and occur alone or in small groups. At nest sites, males often perch nearby to defend the nest from intruders, especially during nest construction and egg laying. Outside of the breeding season they frequently mix with other swallow species.

Back to top


Low Concern

Northern Rough-winged Swallows are common but their populations declined by 18% between 1970 and 2014, according to Partners in Flight. The estimated global breeding population is 18 million. The species rates a 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, which means it is not on the Partners in Flight Watch List, and is a species of low conservation concern. Northern Rough-winged Swallows, like other aerial insectivores (swallows, swifts, nightjars, and flycatchers), have experienced widespread population declines. The causes are not well understood, but could include pollutants or pesticides that reduce the number of flying insects, and climate change that can impact both when and how many flying insects are available.

Back to top


De Jong, Michael J. (1996). Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love (2016). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2016.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory, Laurel, MD, USA.

Nebel, S., A. Mills, J. D. McCracken, and P. D. Taylor. (2010). Declines of aerial insectivores in North America follow a geographic gradient. Avian Conservation and Ecology 5:1.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Pieplow, N. (2017). Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Eastern North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, NY, USA.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Yuri, T., and S. Rohwer (1997). Molt and migration in the Northern Rough-winged Swallow. Auk 114:249-262.

Back to top

Learn more at Birds of the World