Early Swallows: The Birds That Herald Springtime


Have you noticed them yetthis year Early Swallows, swooping and diving over fields and lakes? The early swallows have returned, a sure sign that spring has sprung. After a long winter, you’ve been eagerly awaiting any indication that warmer weather is on the way. And now here they are, those welcome winged harbingers of the season to come.

For you, the arrival of the swallows means more than just nicer temperatures are ahead. Their graceful aerial acrobatics lift your mood and stir memories of springs past. As the days continue to lengthen, you find yourself gazing up more often, watching the swallows expertly catch insects on the fly. While other birds are just now arriving after a lengthy migration, the swallows are already busy scouting nesting spots and starting to build their mud homes.

Before long, the sounds of newly hatched swallow chicks will fill the air, demanding to be fed. While you go about your day, the swallow parents will work tirelessly to satisfy the appetites of their nestlings. But for now, just take a moment to appreciate the swallows’ return and all the promise of adventure and new life spring has to offer. The season of renewal is here at last. Welcome back, little swallows!

What Are Early Swallows?

What Are Early Swallows?

The early swallows are a family of small, agile birds that return from migration early each spring. There are eight species of swallows commonly found in North America, including the familiar barn swallow with its distinctive forked tail.

As the snow melts and insects emerge, the swallows arrive en masse. Their aerial acrobatics and chattering calls are a welcome sign that warmer weather is coming. Barn swallows in particular are adaptable birds that settle anywhere with open areas for foraging, a body of water, and a sheltered ledge for building their nests.

  • Barn swallows have steel blue feathers on their upperparts and reddish throat and forehead. They build cup-shaped mud nests in barns, under bridges, and on buildings.
  • Cliff swallows construct gourd-shaped mud nests in large colonies under cliff overhangs or on buildings. They have a blue back, buffy rump, and square tail.
  • Tree swallows nest in tree cavities and birdhouses. They have iridescent blue-green upperparts and white underparts.
  • Northern rough-winged swallows also nest in burrows and crevices. They are brown above and light below with rough wing edges.

The early swallows usher in the warmer months, swooping and diving for insects in open skies once again. Their aerial feats and familiar calls lift our spirits, a natural reminder of nature’s renewal each spring. Though small, these mighty migrants connect us to the changing seasons. Welcome back, swallows!

Identifying Early Swallow Species

Come springtime, keep an eye out for swallows flitting and swooping through the skies. These aerial acrobats are some of the first migrants to return north each year, heralding the change of season.

The tree swallow is one of the most common, with iridescent blue-green feathers on its back and crisp white underparts. As the name suggests, tree swallows nest in tree cavities or birdhouses close to open water, where they feed on flying insects.

Barn swallows build cup-shaped mud nests inside barns or under eaves, bridges and wharves. Their rusty throat and navy blue back make them easy to identify. Barn swallows often hunt on the wing for flies, mosquitoes and other insects over grassy fields, ponds and streams.

Violet-green swallows inhabit coniferous forests of the Pacific Northwest, nesting in old woodpecker holes. Look for their distinctive white cheek patch and deep violet upperparts. Violet-green swallows hawk for insects high in the forest canopy.

The northern rough-winged swallow and bank swallow also breed in the region, the former nesting in burrows along riverbanks and lakeshores, the latter excavating nest tunnels in eroding cliffs and sandbanks. Their brown upperparts help camouflage them at their nest sites.

Cliff swallows construct gourd-shaped mud nests beneath overhangs on buildings, bridges and cliffs. Their blue-black head and rusty rump make them easy to identify on the wing or when perched outside their nests.

Whether darting over riparian thickets or skimming ponds and lakes, swallows usher in the warmer days of spring and summer across the Pacific Northwest. Keep an eye out for these long-distance migrants in your neighborhood.

When Do Early Swallows Arrive?

As winter gives way to spring, some of the first signs of the changing seasons are the early swallows returning from their winter homes. Tree swallows, in particular, are often spotted in March, showing up in Western North Carolina as early as the first week of the month. Over the years, the initial sightings of tree swallows have ranged from early March to mid-April.

Barn swallows, on the other hand, may arrive in southern states like Florida and Texas in January or February. These aerial acrobats spend the winter in Central and South America, then make the long trek northward, stopping over in the southern U.S. before continuing their journey. By late March or April, barn swallows can be seen swooping over fields and lakes across much of the eastern and midwestern U.S. and Canada.

The early arrival of swallows coincides with the emergence of flying insects like mosquitoes, gnats, and flies. These agile birds feed almost exclusively on insects while airborne, snatching them out of the air or skimming them from the surface of ponds and streams. Their diet and aerial skills are perfectly suited to catching insects on the wing.

As devoted warm-weather birds, the return of swallows is a harbinger of spring and milder temperatures. Their familiar V-shaped flight formation and chattering calls elicit a sense of seasonal change and renewal. Though small in stature, swallows have an outsized impact, reminding us each year that winter’s chill will soon fade into memory.

The next time you spy those signature forked tails and streamlined silhouettes cutting through the air, take heart – spring has officially sprung and summer is on its way!

Where to See Early Swallows

If you want to spot some early swallows in their natural habitat, there are a few great places to visit in the spring. These social birds tend to flock together, so finding one usually means finding many more.

Grand River Landing

The Lake Metroparks’ Grand River Landing in Lake County, Ohio is an ideal spot for swallow watching. The open fields and adjacent Grand River attract Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, and Northern Rough-winged Swallows. You’ll have a chance to observe the swallows up close as they swoop and glide, catch insects on the wing, and enter their nesting cavities. The tree swallows in particular are quite used to people and may allow you to get within a few feet of them.

The Orleans Transfer Station

On Cape Cod in Massachusetts, the Orleans Transfer Station provides habitat for Bank Swallows. These aerial acrobats nest in burrows dug into the sandy soil of a large hill on the property. Watch as the swallows zip in and out of their burrows, carrying food for their young. Hundreds of Bank Swallows may occupy this colony, making for an impressive display of numbers and activity. TheTransfer Station is open daily to visitors, so you can easily stop by for an hour or two of swallow spotting.

Local Farms

Don’t overlook farms, ranches, and open agricultural areas in your local vicinity. Barn Swallows in particular favor these man-made structures for nesting, building their mud nests inside barns, sheds, and stables. Strike up a conversation with the landowner and ask for permission to observe the swallows on their property. Many farmers will grant access, especially if you explain your interest in the natural world. A pair of binoculars and a field guide will help you identify the different swallow species in your region.

With a little searching, you’re sure to find an area near you where you can get an up-close look at these harbingers of spring. The swallows’ aerial mastery and social behaviors make them endlessly fascinating to watch. Seeing them in their natural nesting habitat will give you an even greater appreciation for these early migrants.

Attracting Early Swallows to Your Yard

Attracting early swallows like tree swallows and barn swallows to your yard is rewarding. These aerial acrobats put on a show while gobbling up pesky insects. A few simple steps can turn your yard into a welcoming haven for these harbingers of spring.

Provide nesting spots. Tree swallows readily use nest boxes, so put up a few birdhouses on posts 5 to 15 feet high, with a 1.5-inch entrance hole facing away from the wind. Barn swallows build mud nests, so leave small twigs, straw, and dryer lint scattered around for them to collect. Place these natural materials on platforms under the eaves of buildings, on fences, or on the ground.

Offer open space. Early swallows prefer open areas for feeding and nesting. Keep your yard mowed and clear underbrush. Tree swallows like open lawns, fields, and water. Barn swallows flock around farms, ranches, and rural homes. An open design with minimal nooks and crannies deters predators.

Provide water. All swallows need open water for drinking and bathing. Install a bird bath, fountain, pond, or leave pet bowls out. The moving water will attract more insects, giving the swallows an easy meal.

Grow native plants. Landscape with native flowers, shrubs, and trees that attract insects and provide protection. Blueberries, elderberries, and wild cherries produce berries that early swallows relish. Native plants suited to your area will thrive with minimal care and create habitat for swallows and other wildlife.

By following these tips, your yard can become a welcoming oasis for tree swallows and barn swallows. Enjoy the aerial shows and insect control these early harbingers of spring provide. With open space, water, nest spots and native plants, you’ll give early swallows a place to call home.


So next time you see those first swallows swooping and diving in the sky, give them a little nod of thanks. They’ve traveled thousands of miles to bring us that first sweet taste of spring. Their aerial acrobatics are nature’s way of shaking off the last remnants of winter and ushering in warmer days ahead.

Though fleeting, the swallows’ annual visit reminds us to appreciate each moment and find joy in the simple pleasures, like a sunny day, a cool breeze, and birdsong. The early swallows embody nature’s renewal and resilience. Their return gives us hope that no matter how long or dark the winter, spring always comes again.

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