04.03.16: Male Tree Swallow

Male Tree Swallow in a field, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.


Technical information

April 15, 2006,
10:44 a.m.

40°6’50” N,
82°57'30" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 20D

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L, Canon 2x teleconverter (600mm) 


1/500th second


I know that spring is near when I see two things: male Red-winged Blackbirds staking out territory and Tree Swallows performing aerial acrobatics above fields.

Watching the Tree Swallows in flight is by far the most enjoyable of the two signs of spring. The birds dive, swoop, climb, flip, twist, turn or hover unpredictably, seeming to defy the laws of aerodynamics as they chase the small flying insects the make up their food supply. They bathe by flying low over the water, skimming their bodies against the surface before rising quickly to shake off droplets of water.

Their search for food is constant, so I rarely see them perched for very long. I grabbed this photo of a male Tree Swallow as it took a brief break from chasing insects.

I also find Tree Swallows around nesting boxes in the spring. Like Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows nest in tree cavities so nesting boxes are an attractive man-made home. But another common resident of local parks in Central Ohio, the Eastern Bluebird, also nests in cavities and target nesting boxes in the sprint. That leads to constant battles between Bluebirds and Tree Swallows over nesting sites, with possession of a nesting box changing from Bluebird to Tree Swallow and back many times during a day until one species manages to establish a nest. That’s why many local fields will have two adjacent nesting boxes. Bluebirds won’t nest near another Bluebird, so placing two nesting boxes in close proximity increases the chances that a Bluebird will get one while a Swallow gets the other.

Male Tree Swallows like this one have deep-blue iridescent backs and clean white fronts during breeding season, although the backs can look blue-green in some lighting conditions. Females are duller with more brown in their upper parts, and juveniles are completely brown above.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.