Bird GuideSwallowsNorthern Rough-winged Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Stelgidopteryx serripennis

At a Glance

Two kinds of brown-backed swallows nest in holes in dirt banks. The Rough-wing is the solitary one, not nesting in colonies like the Bank Swallow. It is usually seen singly or in small groups, even during migration, in rapid low flight over rivers or fields. The name 'Rough-winged' comes from small serrations on the outermost wing feathers. The function of these is unknown, but they may produce sounds during courtship flights.
Swallow-like Birds, Swallows
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Desert and Arid Habitats, Forests and Woodlands, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Flap/Glide, Swooping

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Generally an early migrant in spring. In parts of the southwest it is absent mainly in late fall, reappearing in January or even late December.


5-5 3/4" (13-15 cm). Brown above, dull dingy gray-brown on throat, fading to white on belly and undertail coverts. Unlike other swallows, no sharp contrast on underparts.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Brown, Gray, White
Wing Shape
Broad, Long, Pointed, Tapered
Tail Shape
Notched, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

A low, unmusical br-r-ret, more drawn out than the call of the Bank Swallow and often doubled.
Call Pattern
Call Type


Near streams, lakes, river banks, also arroyos in dry country. Widespread in any kind of open country, but most commonly near water, nesting in vertical dirt banks (as along streambanks, river bluffs, gravel pits). May also nest along dry washes in arid country, but usually feeds over water, fields, or dense brush.



5-7, sometimes 4-8. White. Incubation probably by female, 12-16 days.


Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave nest about 19-21 days after hatching. 1 brood per year.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly in the air, patrolling over rivers, ponds, and fields in swift flight. Usually forages low. Often solitary in foraging, but may join concentrations of other swallows at good feeding areas.


Insects. Feeds on a wide variety of flying insects, including many flies, wasps, winged ants, bees, true bugs, and beetles. Also eats some moths, caterpillars, mayflies, damselflies, spiders.


Solitary in nesting; unlike Bank Swallow, does not form colonies, although several pairs may nest in favorable site. In courtship, male flies after female, spreading the white feathers under the base of his tail so that they are prominently displayed. Nest site is usually in burrow in vertical dirt bank; may be bank along running stream, or road cut or similar bank miles from water. Birds may dig tunnel themselves, 1-6' long, or may use old burrow of Bank Swallow, kingfisher, or ground squirrel. Sometimes in other kinds of cavities, such as drainpipe, culvert, crevice in bridge support, hole in side of building. Bulky nest at end of burrow made of twigs, weeds, bark fibers, lined with finer grasses, occasionally with fresh horse manure added.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Because it will nest in artificial sites, including road cuts and holes in bridges, may have increased with the spread of civilization.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Northern Rough-winged Swallow. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.