Hooked on Tree Swallows

He’s handsome. He’s friendly. He’s brave. He’s funny. He’s an entertainer. He’s an acrobat. And he helps protect me from biting insects. It’s the tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor or TRES), a swallow that breeds over most of North America… except the Southeast. Tidewater Virginia is in the ‘maybe’ zone and I’d never experienced this species of swallow.

Although their summer diet is insects, the male tree swallow, with his beautiful iridescent green-blue back, would land atop the bird feeder pole, looking left and right up and down at the seed-eating birds, never bothering them but looked simply curious.

From the break of day to the last rays of light at night, the pair of tree swallows that took up residence in one of our new bluebird houses commanded the skies in search of insects. Their aerial acrobatics and sweet warbles to each other made me think of the lyrics from Captain and Tennille’s “Muskrat Love”:

And they whirled and they twirled and they tangoed
Singin’ and jingin’ the jango
Floatin’ like the heavens above….
It looks like muskrat love

Dipping and dancing, twirling and soaring, these agile little fellas coursed over fields and water at speeds of 25 MPH consuming insects… up to 2,000 insects each and feeding 6,000 to their offspring in the 45-day nesting period according to Dick Tuttle of the Ohio Bluebird Society.

Our tree swallows have raised their one batch of young that have recently fledged. I can see the entire family flying back and forth across the small pond across the field catching insects in the air. Since they were finished with their house, I opened it yesterday and this is what I found.

Their nests are made with coarse grasses and lined with feathers that look much like water fowl feathers. The feathers, gathered by the male, are said to keep the young warm and deter mites.

In reading more about tree swallows, I should have opened the bird box regularly to check on the chicks and evict any house sparrows that may have taken up residence. The house sparrow is a European invasive and a threat to the welfare of the swallows. To learn more about the tree swallow, click here.

4 thoughts on “Hooked on Tree Swallows

  1. Even though I’ve never seen them at my Williamsburg home, I am now in “muskrat love” with these little fellows, too!


    • For tree swallows, all you need is a open field, water and a bird box. In Virginia we had the Chesapeake and acres of woods that attracted adorable barn swallows with their mud nests. Not as personable as tree swallows though….


  2. The bluebird boxes in the gardens at B&B Bulbs have been invaded by house sparrows. Because the House Sparrow is not a native bird it is not protected by any law so eggs and birds can be destroyed. After removing several nests I read that this is not recommended as the highly teritorrial male may become enraged and destroy every native bird it can catch. Next, I took several eggs and kept them in my refrigerator. Following day I marked them with ink and returned them to the nests. This has kept the nests inactive for several weeks but it is just a matter of time before new nest are built on top and more eggs are laid. I draw the line at setting traps and destroying live birds … Then, wonders of wonders, I discovered plans for the Kentucky Bluebird Box. It has a slit opening design and is not popular with House Sparrows but does attract Bluebirds and Tree Swallows.
    I’ll let you know if it works!


    • I was never bothered by house sparrows before now. I watched them in action around this habitat trying to nest in any possible spot. But the bluebirds and tree swallows banded together to fight them and won the battles.


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