Interesting Facts About Swallow Bird For Kids
With more than 83 different types of swallows, there are a lot of things to know about these little birds. Our article tells you a few amazing and unique facts about swallows.
By Arun Sharma • 14 min read
Swallows, although small birds, symbolise diverse spiritual aspects of life. They represent freedom from past worries and pain, joy, hope, passion and speed.
So, it’s no wonder that William Shakespeare said, “True hope is swift, and flies with swallow's wings.”
The swallow bird is also called the ‘bird of freedom’. It is found in almost every region of the world with temperate climate.
While urbanisation has created problems for other birds, swallows have adapted to the changing world. Together with trees, swallows build nests in man-made structures like abandoned buildings, under the bridges and sheds. This is one of the reasons for the increase in the habitation area and the population of swallows.
These hardy and feisty little birds are here to stay alongside humans. So, let’s get to know them better by learning some interesting facts about swallows like types of swallows, swallow's habitat, nesting habit of swallows and baby swallows.
Swallow genus and species
- Swallows belong to the family Hirundinidae.
- This family is further sub-divided into 19 genera and 83 species.
- It is thought that swallows evolved in the continent of Africa, and this is where several types of swallows are also found.
- While swallows are migratory birds, the West and South African swallows do not migrate.
- The barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) is the most common and widespread species of the family.
- The barn swallow is also the fastest flier among all the swallow species. It has been recorded flying at 74kmph.
- The bank swallow (Riparia riparia) is the smallest of all swallow species.
- The purple martin (Progne subis) is the largest swallow in North America. It is also among the world’s largest swallows.
- A genetic mutation can lead to swallows being born white. Such albino swallows usually have poor eyesight and rarely survive beyond the fledgling stage.
Swallow's physical features, habitat, behaviour, diet, communication and nesting habits
With 83 species of swallows living in different parts of the world, the habitat of swallows is quite diverse. Different species prefer different types of environmental conditions and build different types of nests. But, all of them live near areas where there is plenty of food and water. Let’s learn a little more about some of the swallow species that are found in India, and in other parts of the world.
Barn swallow (Hirundo rustica)
- Physical features: Like other swallows, the barn swallow is a small bird. It is around 14 to 20cm long and weighs approximately 20g. The feathers on the back and chest are metallic blue and pale beige. The feathers on the throat and forehead are light brown.
- Habitat: This swallow species is found worldwide except in Australia and Antarctica. The barn swallow can be found in places where there are pastures, open woodlands, meadows and grasslands. This bird also build its nest in areas of human settlements in places like buildings, gardens and parks.
- Behaviour: When it comes to guarding its nest and the surrounding territory, the barn swallow is very aggressive. At times, it also kills the chicks of other swallows to find a mate for itself.
- Communication: The barn swallow produces short chirps for communicating with each other. During times of distress or danger, the bird produces a series of chirps. It also snaps its beak together to produce a clicking sound.
- Diet: Being an insectivorous bird, the barn swallow feeds on grasshoppers, moths, beetles, crickets, dragonflies and other such insects. It catches its prey in flight like other swallows. In fact, swallows also drink water on the fly.
- Nesting: Both the male and female barn swallows are involved in building the nest. The barn swallow nest is made of mud mixed with grass. The nest is usually 3 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep and is built on a horizontal surface. Once the nest is ready, the swallow lines it with grass and feathers on the inside.
Cave swallow (Petrochelidon fulva)
- Physical features: This swallow resembles the cliff swallow quite closely in appearance. The cave swallow measures between 12 and 14cm, and weighs approximately 19g. The feathers on its back have a bluish appearance while the wings appear brown. The forehead and cheek are of pale cinnamon colour.
- Habitat: The population of the cave swallow is distributed over a wide area comprising the central plateau of Mexico, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. This bird usually inhabits caves, culverts and other man-made structures like bridges.
- Behaviour: The cave swallow spends most of its time off the ground, descending only to collect mud and other materials to build the nest. It forages for food either during early morning or late afternoon. It is a monogamous bird.
- Communication: The song of the cave swallow lasts 3–4 seconds. The bird chatters in different ways to indicate hunger, presence of predators and other such things.
- Diet: This species often forages for food in flocks. The birds feed in flight and can fly up to a height of 350 feet to look for food. The diet consists of insects like bugs, grasshoppers, beetles and flies. Moths are one of the favourite food of the cave swallow.
- Nesting: This swallow builds its nest by cementing mud balls together. Historically, the nest used to be built high up on the walls of caves, but nowadays, cave swallow nests can be found under bridges and other man-made structures a well. The cave swallow nest is not accessible from the ground and is lined with grass, plant fibres and feathers.
Mangrove swallow (Tachycineta albilinea)
- Physical features: This species is relatively smaller than other swallows. It is 11 to 12cm long and weighs approximately 14g. The underpart of this bird is white. The feathers on its back are metallic blue with white or pale grey margins.
- Habitat: This swallow is found on both the eastern and western coast of Mexico and up to south Panama. It is usually found along the coastline and in areas near lakes, rivers, marshes and other waterbodies.
- Behaviour: The mangrove swallow is monogamous and very territorial. During the breeding season, the male may attack other birds, and even humans, that try to come close to its nest. However, once the breeding season is over, the mangrove swallow becomes very social and lives in large flocks of about 50 or more birds. It comes out to search for food usually early in the morning or late afternoon.
- Diet: Like other swallows, this species also feeds on flying insects like dragonflies, bees, bugs, ants and beetles. They look for insects close to water bodies and sometimes close to 100 feet above the surface of water too.
- Nesting: The mangrove swallow builds its nest near water bodies in cavities of dead tree trunks, abandoned woodpecker holes and on branches partially submerged in water.
Pacific swallow (Hirundo tahitica)
- Physical features: It is a small bird which is about 13cm long and weighs between 11 and 15g. The colour of its face and breast is red. The back is glossy blue and the underpart is light grey. The feathers of the wings and tail are brown. The tail is also slightly forked in appearance.
- Habitat: The species is distributed across countries of Southeast Asia and islands of the south Pacific. It favours living in open country with waterbodies, coastal areas and mangroves. The bird is a resident and does not migrate. It is often seen perching on electric cables and wires.
- Behaviour: The Pacific swallow forages alongside barn swallows, but it does not mingle with the birds of the other species.
- Diet: It is a fast flier and uses its speed and agility to catch its prey. Its diet is made up of insects, flies, ants and termites.
- Nesting: Sheltered areas like abandoned buildings and ventilation holes are its favourite nesting spots. The pacific swallow builds its nest from mud mixed with grass. It is lined with dry grass and feathers.
Welcome swallow (Hirundo neoxena)
- Physical features: This is a small bird with a deeply forked tail. It is between 14 and 16cm long and weighs between 13 and 20g. The feathers on its belly and breast are whitish or light grey, and the back is metallic blue-black. The feathers of the forehead and throat are reddish brown.
- Habitat: This species is native to Australia but is also found in New Zealand. Except densely forested and arid inland areas, this bird can inhabit every other area. It migrates depending on food availability, so the welcome swallow can be called a partially migratory bird.
- Behaviour: The welcome swallows are social birds. They roost in large groups and help in taking care of the young ones.
- Diet: A variety of insects constitute the diet of the welcome swallows. They catch their prey in flight. They eat approximately every two minutes to maintain their weight and energy levels.
- Nesting: This bird lives in close proximity to humans. The welcome swallow's nest is made using a mixture of grass and mud. The nest is usually built on a vertical wall of a building, hollow trees, caves and mines, or other such natural structures. After building the nest, the bird lines it with feathers, animal hairs and feathers.
Here are a few more swallows found in different countries of the world:
Swallows found in the USA
Northern rough-winged swallow
Swallows found in India
Indian cliff swallow
Indian wire-tailed swallow
Swallows found in Australia
Amazing swallow bird facts
- The barn swallow may travel 9,000km away from its home during migration.
- A tree swallow flock can number in thousands.
- Although called the Purple martin, the colour of this bird’s plumage is dark blue-black with an iridescent sheen.
- Purple martins of different ages and genders migrate at different times, with the older males flying away first.
- A pair of swallows can make up to 1,200 trips to build their nest.
- Approximately 44% of swallows reoccupy their nest upon return from migration.
- The largest population of swallows are found in Bulgaria and Poland.
Swallow bird in movies, art and literature
Swallow bird in movies
- The Swallows' Journey
- Swallow Migration
- Nesting Swallows
Books on swallow bird
- A Single Swallow by Horatio Clare
- Swallow Summer by Charles R. Brown
- Follow the Swallow by Julia Donaldson
- Henry The Barn Swallow By Mary Wright
Swallow on national symbols
- A flag with a V-shaped cut is called a swallowtail flag.
- The barn swallow is the national bird of Estonia and Austria.
Although small in size, swallows form an important part of the ecosystem. Their huge appetite for insects keeps the population of critters under control and prevents damage to crops.
With climate change and increased use of chemicals in farms, the swallow population is on the decline. Let’s join hands in efforts to save the swallow bird.
About the author:
Written by Arun Sharma on 13 March 2020
The author was associated with the healthcare industry before becoming a full-time writer and editor. A doting father to two preteens, he believes in experiential learning for his children. Also, he loves mountain trekking and nature trips.
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