My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Bank Swallow, Riparia riparia

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Bank Swallow, Riparia riparia

The bank swallow is a migratory passerine bird in the swallow family. It has a wide range in summer, embracing practically the whole of Europe and the Mediterranean countries, where it is known as the sand martin, part of northern Asia and also North America. It winters in eastern and southern Africa, South America and South Asia.

The 12 cm long bank swallow is brown above, white below with a narrow brown band on the breast; the bill is black, the legs brown. The young have rufous tips to the coverts and margins to the secondaries.

The bank swallow appears on its breeding grounds as the first of its family, starting towards the end of March, just in advance of the Barn Swallow. In northern Ohio, they arrive in numbers by mid-April, about 10 days earlier than they did 100 years ago. At first, they flit over the larger bodies of water alone, in search of early flies. Later parties accompany other swallow species, but for a time, varying according to weather, the birds remain at these large waters and do not visit their nesting haunts. The bank swallow departs early, at any rate from its more northerly haunts. In August, the gatherings at the nightly roost increase enormously, though the advent and departure of passage birds causes great irregularity in numbers. They are essentially gone from their breeding range by the end of September.

Their food consists of small insects, mostly gnats and other flies whose early stages are aquatic.

The bank swallow is sociable in its nesting habits; from a dozen to many hundred pairs will nest close together, according to available space. The nests are at the end of tunnels of from a few inches to three or four feet in length, bored in sand or gravel. The actual nest is a litter of straw and feathers in a chamber at the end of the burrow, it soon becomes a hotbed of parasites. Four or five white eggs are laid about mid-late May, and a second brood is usual in all but the most northerly breeding sites.

On to my photos:

Bank swallow or sand martin

Bank swallow or sand martin

Bank swallow or sand martin

Bank swallow or sand martin

Bank swallow or sand martin

Bank swallow or sand martin

Bank swallow or sand martin

Bank swallow or sand martin

Bank swallow or sand martin

Bank swallow or sand martin

Bank swallow or sand martin

Bank swallow or sand martin

This is number 130 in my photo life list, only 220 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


8 responses

  1. There used to be hundreds of some type of bank swallow nesting along the sandy banks of the Asuelot River here. I’m not sure if they still nest there or not.

    October 30, 2013 at 6:25 am

    • There’s several species of swallows that will nest in banks along a river or near a lake, now you’ll know where to come to ID them if you get a good look at them. 😉

      I love swallows, they’re such graceful flyers, and they help keep the insect population in check, at least a little.

      October 30, 2013 at 1:49 pm

  2. Not sure if I’ve seen a bank swallow–probably, yes, but never identified one before. My heart always thrills to see flocks of swallows or other small birds.

    November 2, 2013 at 10:39 am

    • Thanks Kathy, bank swallows are quite common, but easily mistaken for other swallow species, so it’s quite probable that you have seen these.

      November 2, 2013 at 1:42 pm

  3. Lovely photos! I wonder if I have ever seen these and not known. How interesting that they burrow in sand or gravel for their nests!

    November 2, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    • Thank you it could very well be that you have seen these, they are common.

      November 2, 2013 at 4:07 pm

  4. When I saw the title I expected you to have one of these in flight since you’re so good at that. Great images of this hard to catch bird.

    November 4, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    • Thanks. You know, it’s so seldom that I see any swallows perched that I specifically tried to get perched shots of all the species of swallows.

      November 5, 2013 at 3:08 am