Photo: G. Lasley/Vireo

Bank Swallow

Riparia riparia

The smallest of our swallows, the Bank Swallow is usually seen in flocks, flying low over ponds and rivers with quick, fluttery wingbeats. It nests in dense colonies, in holes in dirt or sand banks. Some of these colonies are quite large, and a tall cut bank may be pockmarked with several hundred holes. Despite their small size, tiny bills, and small feet, these swallows generally dig their own nesting burrows, sometimes up to five feet long.
Conservation status Local populations vary with availability of good colony sites. Loss of such sites may be contributing to long-term declines in overall numbers.
Family Swallows
Habitat Near water; fields, marshes, streams, lakes. Typically seen feeding in flight over (or near) water at all seasons, even in migration. Nests in colonies in vertical banks of dirt or sand, usually along rivers or ponds, seldom away from water.
The smallest of our swallows, the Bank Swallow is usually seen in flocks, flying low over ponds and rivers with quick, fluttery wingbeats. It nests in dense colonies, in holes in dirt or sand banks. Some of these colonies are quite large, and a tall cut bank may be pockmarked with several hundred holes. Despite their small size, tiny bills, and small feet, these swallows generally dig their own nesting burrows, sometimes up to five feet long.
Photo Gallery
Feeding Behavior

Feeds almost entirely in flight. Often forages in flocks, and typically flies rather low, doing much feeding over water. Rarely feeds on ground, mainly in severe weather.


Eggs

4-5, sometimes 3-7. White. Incubation is by both parents, 14-16 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave nest about 18-24 days after hatching.


Young

Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave nest about 18-24 days after hatching.

Diet

Insects. Feeds on a wide variety of flying insects. Eats many flies (including house flies and crane flies), beetles, wasps, winged ants, small bees, and true bugs, plus some dragonflies, stoneflies, moths, caterpillars, and others.


Nesting

Almost always nests in colonies in vertical banks of sand or dirt; may be along riverbanks, lake shores, road cuts, gravel pits, or similar sites. Often dense colonies, with entrances to holes no more than a foot apart. All the pairs in a colony may be synchronized in timing of their nesting activities. Nest site is in burrow excavated in steep bank. Both sexes help dig burrow, beginning by clinging to bank and digging with bill, later crawling inside burrow and kicking out dirt with feet. Burrows usually 2-3' long, sometimes 1-5' long. Nest at end of horizontal burrow is made of grass, weeds, rootlets, with a lining of feathers added after eggs are laid.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

Migrates north relatively late in spring compared to other swallows. A long-distance migrant, wintering in lowlands of South America. In late summer, may gather in huge flocks before southward migration.

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Migration

Migrates north relatively late in spring compared to other swallows. A long-distance migrant, wintering in lowlands of South America. In late summer, may gather in huge flocks before southward migration.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Sharp, unmusical pret or trit-trit.