There are seven native types of swallows found in North America. Swallows are common throughout the continent, the Barn Swallow, Bank Swallow, Cliff Swallow and Tree Swallow can be seen from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast and into Northern Canada and Alaska. The Northern Rough-winged Swallow is seen throughout the USA and all of the southern provinces of Canada.
The Violet-green Swallow has a range on the western coast, from Alaska to Mexico and along the Rocky Mountains. The Cave Swallow has the smallest range and can be found along the southern perimeters of New Mexico and Texas, with a small colony in southern Florida. The Bahama Swallow is a vagrant swallow and is sometimes seen in the southern regions of Florida.
Cliff swallows and barn swallows are slender, sleek birds that spend their spring and summers in North America. Swallows are very territorial and will return to the same nesting site over and over. Building eaves and other structures often replace cliffs these days to build their distinctive mud pellet nests (see photo at right). Swallows have brownish red faces and throats with steel blue coats and light colored bellies. Cliff swallows have squared off tails, but barn swallows have long forked tails (see top photo). Young swallows have similar coloring, but lighter.
Swallows feed on insects and catch their prey as they maneuver through the air. They are mostly found near water and most swallow species build their nests from mud. The exception to this is the Bank Swallow, who prefers to burrow into the sides of sandbanks and the Tree Swallow and Violet-green Swallow, prefer to nest in the cavities of trees and posts and they use man-made bird houses, when given the opportunity.
Swallows are attractive backyard birds for several reasons. Their graceful, aerobatic, energetic flight can be a joy to watch as they swoop about, and their glossy plumage glitters in the sunlight. They are relatively quiet species and while their song is typically musical and chirping, they are less vocal than species such as thrushes or mockingbirds – perfect for backyard birders who prefer a quieter landscape. The most desirable characteristic of swallows, swifts and martins, however, is their voracious appetites. These insectivorous birds can consume hundreds of insects every day, and inviting a family of them into the backyard can provide exceptional (and free!) pest control.