In this blog I often focus on those birds we are likely to see at our backyard feeders, but today I would like to talk about the Tree Swallow. Though by no means uncommon throughout the state of New Jersey, it is unlikely that Tree Swallows will come to your feeders or nest in boxes in dense populated, suburban areas. You might have better luck if you live in a more rural area, especially if you live near a source of still water, such as a small pond or marsh. We usually see Tree Swallows when we visit our favorite marshes in the Meadowlands or the Celery Farms.
Migrating up from Mexico starting in mid-March, the majority of the population has usually arrived by mid-April. You really cannot mistake them for another bird. Their most distinguishing feature, especially from other Swallows, is their vibrant plumage. Their upper feathers are a shiny blue that can seem opalescent in direct sunlight. Their downy white bellies provide a stark contrast to the blue. The female is often duller than her male counterpart, while the juvenile is a gray-brown with a gray breast band around its white belly.
They are about the same size as most songbirds, growing to be between five and six inches. Besides their plumage, you can also recognize them by their pointed wings and notched or forked tails. They have black feet, a small black beak and large black eyes, which almost appear too large for their heads.
You will also know them by their overactive behavior. While Swallows do perch more often than a Hummingbird, they are still a very energetic and active bird, usually swooping and flying in a show of constant activity. There movements are usually accompanied by a series of chirps and chatters directed toward their fellow Tree Swallows. While they do settle on branches or the tops of bird boxes, you will most often see them flying back and forth across open fields or water. They spend most of their time hunting for insects, which make up their entire diet.
Tree Swallows nest in cavities and have really adapted well to bird-boxes, such as bluebird houses. Other man-made cavities they can nest in include PVC pipe houses, sometimes found in marshes. In nature they look for tree cavities and often use abandoned Woodpecker holes. Once they have found their home, Tree Swallows like to line their nests with dropped feathers and they have been known to travel long distances to collect features to pad their nest with.