With their compact bodies, tapered tails and neat little beaks, swallows are among the most distinctive birds in the world. Known to frequent gardens, farms and parks, swallows are common across North America and Eurasia. While individual species may have different coloration or live in different habitats, they all have a similar diet. So, what do swallows eat?
All swallow species have the same structure to their diet, although the food available is different between regions.
Swallows in North America, for instance, will eat different insects to those found in the UK and other European countries with mild climates.
Swallows are insectivores, meaning they feed predominantly on insects. They prefer flying insects such as:
- Fruit flies
Large insects are chosen much more frequently than small swarming insects. This is believed to be because larger insects provided a greater nutritional source for far less energy expenditure.
Swallows will occasionally ingest pebbles, eggshell and gritty substrate. Experts suggest this could be to aid in digestion or as a source of calcium.
How to Attract Swallows to Your Garden
Swallows are noticeable in your garden by their distinctive appearance and graceful, acrobatic flight. They dart about at low heights, pulling tight turns and showing off with sudden dives and upward arcs. Watching swallows flying almost looks as if they are playing.
To attract swallows to your garden, there are a few things you can do. Firstly, allow a small section of your garden to grow wild. This will attract lots of flying insects like flies, butterflies and bees which the swallows will want to eat.
Swallows are not attracted to bird feeders as they do not eat seeds or fruit. You can try to tempt them by leaving a shallow dish with dried mealworms or crickets, which you can purchase from any pet store or reptile store.
When you garden, do not use chemical pesticides or insecticides. Instead, opt for natural alternatives that will not poison or kill the insects that swallows eat. Try to keep the centre of your garden open, with large bushes and trees located along the edges. Swallows prefer open areas to fly in and do not like areas of dense vegetation.
Attract Swallows with Bird Boxes or Bird Bath
A bird bath or small pond is ideal for swallows. They will enjoy being able to bathe themselves during early morning and water sources are essential to prevent dehydration. If you have a garden sprinkler, you may notice swallows flying through the water jets, especially on warm sunny days.
Since swallows prefer to nest in cavities, they would make great use of bird boxes. To prevent large birds from stealing the bird box or attempting to take chicks, chose a bird box with a small opening.
If you have an old tree that has been dug out by a woodpecker, leave this tree standing, as swallows will make use of the vacant nest.
Some swallow species build their nests using mud and they will often choose areas such as awnings, roof eaves or decks as their nest sites.
What Do Swallows Look Like? – Appearance
Swallows differ mostly in colouration, with distinctions clear between North American and European varieties of the same species.
For example, barn swallows living in the US are navy blue, with a large burnt orange face, a thin black band around the neck and creamy plumage covering the chest and belly.
Barn swallows seen across Europe have white chest plumage, a slightly brighter blue colouration and a thicker black neck band.
Violet-green swallows have an emerald green head, with a white face and cheeks, iridescent blue-green back and brown wings with white markings. The chest is white or greyish white and the feet are pink, although some may have darker legs.
All swallows have long tapered wings, small compact bodies and pink, brown or black legs and feet. Some swallow species have wide fan shaped tails, whereas others have a long-forked tail.
Also Read: What Do Bluebirds Eat?
Swallows are Cavity Lovers – Nesting
Swallows will pair up in early spring when the breeding season begins and choose a suitable nesting site. They will hover over several different areas before deciding on the right one.
The most common choices are tree hollows, vacated woodpecker nests, crossbeams in open roof spaces such as barns, roof eaves and decks.
Nests from previous years may be reused provided there are no parasites or mites.
Both parents take turns in constructing the nest, collecting mud from puddles, fields and flowerbeds to create small pellets.
A shelf or ledge is created first and the sides are gradually built up from this point. Nests can take on different shapes depending on the chosen site. Those built into corners or against walls will look like a semicircle. Nests constructed on top of a surface such as a beam or pole will have a complete cup shape.
Nests are lined with natural materials such as grass and mosses, feathers and animal fur. Swallows will remove old feathers if they are reusing a nest from a previous year and they may also add a new layer of mud to the rim of the nest entrance.
Swallows are migratory birds. In North America, some species live year-round in California, Florida and Mexico, but most migrate south for the winter.
European swallows migrate to countries in West Africa during the winter months, with UK species preferring southern Africa.
A swallow can fly more than 200 miles in one day. They prefer low altitudes where they can find places to perch and rest during the journey.
During the migration season, it is common to see dozens of swallows perched on telephone wires, clothes lines and tv antennas.
The average flight speed of migratory swallows is 18 miles per hour, but they can fly as fast as 35 miles per hour for short distances. This is usually reserved for evading predators as fast flight requires a lot of energy and swallows can easily starve or die of exhaustion during migration.