7 Types Of SWALLOWS In Arizona (ID Guide With Photos)

Did you recently come across a swallow in the state of Arizona, and want to know what species it was?

Identifying swallows in the Grand Canyon State is not as easy as it might seem, since there are many swallow species in Arizona.

To help you identify the bird you saw, we’ll cover the most common swallows of Arizona in this article.

Types of swallows found in Arizona

What are the types of swallows in Arizona?

The 7 types of swallows found in Arizona are:

  • Barn Swallow
  • Violet-green Swallow
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  • Purple Martin
  • Tree Swallow
  • Bank Swallow
  • Cliff Swallow

While some of these swallows are year round residents of Arizona, others only occur in the state during the winter, while yet others are summer visitors during the breeding season.

Finally some are only seen in the state of Arizona during migration in fall and spring.

Now let’s dive into the details, and take a closer look at each of these birds:

Barn Swallow

Scientific name: Hirundo rustica

The Barn Swallow inhabits nearly all of North America south of the Arctic circle and may be found in a wide variety of habitats.

It is a summer visitor and breeding bird throughout Arizona, and spends the winter in Central and Southern America.

While it has dark iridescent blue  upperparts, its underside is reddish-orange, including a chestnut orange forehead and throat, as well as a light reddish-orange belly.

The deeply forked tail of Barn Swallows is another great feature you can use to identify this bird. 

However, keep in mind that immature birds have a duller plumage than adults, as well as a shorter tail that is less forked.

This bird used to nest in caves and hollow trees, but nowadays it prefers to do so beneath the overhangs of buildings and bridges, as well as inside barns (which explains how it got its name).

Barn Swallows are still a reasonably common sight in most areas. However, the overall numbers of these birds have been steadily decreasing, especially in the northern section of their range.

This decline is likely a result of the loss of foraging areas and nesting opportunities.

This bird feeds on flying insects, such as mosquitoes and flies, and catches them closer to the ground than other species of swallows. In its winter quarters it also feeds on termites.

Fun fact: swallows are extremely fast and skillful flyers, and only very few Arizona raptors are capable of catching them in the air. 

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Scientific name: Stelgidopteryx serripennis

Photo of Northern Rough-winged Swallow

The Northern Rough-winged Swallow is a common breeding bird throughout North America during the summer. 

With a uniformly light brown upper side and buff white underside, it is less colorful than other species, and often goes unnoticed.

These small Arizona birds prefer to hunt over water, hunting flying insects over rivers, lakes, and ponds. You can also often see it resting on telephone wires or other exposed perches.

In Arizona, this swallow is a summer visitor throughout the entire state, except for the Sonoran Desert in southwest Arizona. It migrates south in winter, and spends the cold months in the Gulf Coast and Central America.

This bird is a burrow nester that occupies abandoned cavities built by other birds.

Purple Martin

Scientific name: Progne subis

Photo of Purple Martin

The Purple Martin is the largest swallow in North America. The male is almost entirely dark purplish blue with an iridescent sheen. The wings and tail are black.

Juvenile birds and females are light gray on top, with beige white underparts. The male Purple Martin is the only martin species that doesn’t have a light colored belly.

While these blue-colored Arizona birds originally built their nest in tree cavities, they have switched over to using man-made nesting sites instead. 

The Purple Martin likes to nest in colonies, which often comprise dozens of pairs. It is a skilled aerial hunter, and feeds mostly on dragonflies.

Similar to other species of swallows, the Purple Martin drinks in flight, by skimming the surface of a body of water. 

This bird is a strictly migratory species and spends the winter in South America. It congregates in large roosts in fall, which fly south together.

The best way to attract these gorgeous blue birds to your yard is by putting up a Purple Martin house in your backyard.

Violet-green Swallow

Scientific name: Tachycineta thalassina

Photo of Violet-green Swallow

This beautiful swallow is a bird of the western USA, and is found as a summer visitor in montane forests of Arizona.

While this bird initially looks like it has an entirely dark upper side, when it catches the sunlight, you’ll notice the iridescent green plumage on its back.

These green birds readily accept nesting boxes, and other nest cavities in urban areas. They are most often observed hunting insects over Arizona rivers and lakes in mountainous areas.

During the cold season they migrate south to spend the winter in Mexico and Central America.

Tree Swallow

Scientific name: Tachycineta bicolor

Photo of Tree Swallow

The Tree Swallow is an uncommon breeding bird throughout Arizona, except for a small population in central Arizona. However, it is often seen in the state during migration.

It is most often found close to lakes, marshes, and ponds, where it hunts for aerial insects.

Adult birds are greenish blue on top, and have buff white underparts. Their feathers are iridescent, and change color when viewed in direct sunlight. 

While adult females look similar to adult males, young individuals are more grayish brown with a white underside. 

This bird readily accepts suitable nesting boxes, which gives you an opportunity to attract this attractive blue-colored bird to your backyard. 

Bank Swallow

Scientific name: Riparia riparia

Photo of Bank Swallow

The Bank Swallow is not a breeding bird in the state of Arizona, but is regularly seen throughout the state during migration season in fall and spring. 

These birds are light brown on top, and buff white on the belly. The best distinguishing feature to identify this bird is its brown band across the chest.

During migration it is often found in mixed flocks with other swallows, which can make identification more difficult.

However, if you spot the brown chest band, you can be sure you’re looking at a Bank Swallow.

While this bird has a huge global range that encompasses most continents except for Australia and Antarctica, it has unfortunately undergone a steep decline in North America in recent years. 

Cliff Swallow

Scientific name: Petrochelidon pyrrhonota

Photo of Cliff Swallow

The Cliff Swallow is a summer visitor and common breeding bird in Arizona, except for the arid landscapes of the Sonoran Desert.

It prefers open country, as well as bodies of water, where it forages for flying insects. It is a uniquely colored bird that has a rust red forehead and cheeks.

The rest of the plumage is mostly dark, except for the light cream colored belly. The female looks similar to the male.

Similar to several other species on this list, this bird is a long-distance migrant that spends its winter in South America. 

During migration, these birds are often encountered in mixed flocks with other swallow species. 

Conclusion

And there we have the swallows found in the state of Arizona.

The varied habitats of Arizona are home to more than 500 different species of birds, and swallows make up a significant proportion of this rich avifauna.

These elegant birds that spend most of their time in the air play a vital role in the ecology of their habitats.

If you enjoyed this article, check out our guide to the yellow birds of Arizona.

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