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.
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  • juvenile
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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.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

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.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Swallows Swallow-like Birds

Bank Swallow

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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