Swallows are common throughout the world and often nest in close proximity to humans. At Chico Basin Ranch during spring, summer, and fall months they are easily seen flying around especially near water. In the winter they migrate south because their diet is mostly flying insects which disappear during cold weather months. Swallows are early spring migrants and therefore thought of as a harbinger of spring and in many regions they are a symbol of good luck.
On the Chico, six swallow species are fairly common in migration and Barn Swallow, Cliff Swallow (not pictured on cover) and Northern Rough-winged Swallows nest here. All species can be seen in April often perched on wires or flying low over ponds.
One of our two brown-backed swallows, this species is also called Sand Martin in most eastern countries of the world. They nest in colonies in vertical sand banks. Sometimes their closest neighbor is only one foot away. The dark collar on a white belly is characteristic of this species. North American birds migrate all the way to South America. They feed on any flying insect and during windy periods can be seen foraging close to the surface of a pond.
Normally a tree cavity nesting species, Tree Swallows have extended their range into the prairies as more and more nest boxes are built for them. They are usually found near water. The bright white underparts and dark blue back is distinctive. They winter in both Central and South America.
NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW
The other brown-backed swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow has recurved hooks along their outer primary feather of each wing, thus the name. They are solitary but often migrate with other swallow species. They dig a hole in sandy cliff banks using their feet for nesting or they will use an abandoned hole provided by kingfishers. Most flying insects are their primary food including bees, wasps, dragonflies, beetles, and winged ants which are caught by flying with their mouths open.
VIOLET- GREEN SWALLOW
Seen in good light, this swallow species shows amazing brilliant green and purple feathers on its back and rump and it is bright white below. They sometimes fly at great heights when insects are present and sometimes are seen foraging with White-throated Swifts. They nest in abandoned woodpecker holes in dead trees or often in rocky crevices.
Because of their nesting in close proximity to humans, this is the species is well known by most people. Our only swallow with a forked tail, their nest is constructed from a combination of mud and grasses and usually attached under a roof but will often nest in rock crevices when available. This is the most widespread swallow species, breeding in North America, Europe, and Asia.
This is the common, colonial species nesting in tight groups under overpasses or in dark corners of breezeways. Often in conflict with some businesses and homeowners because of their dense colonies with lots of noise and lots of excrement produced. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act in theory protects all native bird species from the time of egg laying to fledging.