The speed at which swallows pass by can make identification challenging, but the key is to focus on tail shape and length, facial patterns, and rump color. When perched, note that the wingtips of Tree Swallows reach the tail, while the wingtips of Violet-green Swallows extend beyond the tail, giving them a short-tailed look. Tree Swallows also have a bluish-green back and they lack the white patches on the sides of their rump that are distinctive on Violet-green Swallows. Tree Swallows also tend to soar more than the fluttery Violet-green Swallow. Juvenile Tree Swallows have a cleanly defined gray-brown and white face while juvenile Violet-green Swallows have a smudgy dusky face. Adult and juvenile Bank Swallows have longer, thinner tails. They also have a distinctive gray-brown breast band, gray-brown backs, and do not have white on the sides of the rump like Violet-green. Northern Rough-winged Swallows are brown above with a dusky throat unlike the white throat seen on Violet-green Swallows. Cliff Swallows have broader and rounder wings compared to a Violet-green Swallow. Cliff Swallows also have a pale rump patch on the top of their tails while Violet-greens have white on the sides of their rump. Barn Swallows wings are longer and more pointed that Violet-green Swallows. Adult Barn Swallows also have a long forked tail that distinguishes them from Violet-green Swallows. Juvenile Barn Swallows don’t have a long forked tail, but they have a solidly dark back (no white on the rump) and buffy bellies. Purple Martins are much larger than Violet-green Swallows with chunkier bodies and wings. Adult males are entirely dark above and below while Violet-greens have a white belly. Juvenile and female Purple Martins have a grayish belly, but they do not have any white on the rump like Violet-greens. Vaux's and Chimney swifts 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. Swifts in flight, in general look like flying cigars whereas swallows look chunkier and often spread their tails.
If you live near an open woodland or lake, Violet-green Swallows may nest in your yard, especially if you put up a nest box or leave standing dead trees on your property. Nest boxes can be placed on buildings, live trees, dead trees, or a pole 9–15 feet above the ground. Because Violet-green Swallows often like to nest in small groups, consider putting up more than one nest box at least 30 feet apart. Find out more about nest boxes on All About Birdhouses, where you'll find plans to build your own nest box for Violet-green Swallows.
Find This Bird
One of the best places to look for Violet-green Swallows is to head out to a river, pond, or lake early in the morning and keep your eyes to the sky. Watch for birds swooping and twittering over the water snatching up insects. They tend to be in groups from 10 to over 100 and they often hang out with other swifts and swallows. To pick one out of the crowd look for the white saddlebags on the sides of the rump and a clean white belly. It can be difficult to get a good look at flying Violet-green Swallows, but you might have an easier time following one with your binoculars if you spot one a little bit further away. That way the swallow won't zip out of your field of view as soon as it enters. They often perch on power lines and dead trees, so you’ll be able to get a better look at perched birds in those spots.
Provide nesting habitat for Violet-green Swallows by building a nest box. Learn more at NestWatch and start contributing valuable information about the breeding biology of Violet-green Swallows.