Sunday, August 10, 2014

Impromptu Barn Swallow Nature Study

We have been seeing and hearing swallows occasionally throughout the summer. They fly so quickly, though, that up till now it has been impossible to identify what kind of swallows they are. I had been thinking that they might have been tree swallows because many of them seemed to have white undersides, and I also caught glimpses of blue when they came close enough.

Yesterday and today, though, about fifteen or twenty have been congregating near our house. Every time I stepped outside the door, they seemed to be swooping through the air around my yard. Even whizzing by within ten feet of my head, I still had trouble telling exactly what they were.

Until this morning. Fifteen of these swallows settled nicely in a row on the power line leading right to my front door. For the first time I was able to get a good look without them being in constant motion. 

Photo courtesy of my husband, Stephen. Having the zoomed-in picture really helped with identification.

I grabbed my Handbook of Nature Study. I looked up tree swallows, and was excited to see that it said that tree swallows often congregate in early August before heading south. However, I saw almost immediately that these were not tree swallows, as they had a "collar" which tree swallows do not have. Also, a few of the swallows had more of a rusty-coloured underside. That made me think of barn swallows. But why did so many have white undersides?

I looked up barn swallows at One of the nice things about this website is that it usually has pictures of male, female, and juvenile birds. In this case, female and juvenile birds both have whiter undersides than the males. I believe the bird in the middle of the picture above is a male, and the other two are females. There were also several less sleek, more fluffy-looking birds, and I think those must have been younger birds. The "typical song" also confirmed the identification. These birds always seem to be twittering.

I am so glad to have finally figured out what type "our" swallows are!

I think the one on the left is a juvenile, with an adult female on the right.