6 Types Of SWALLOWS In Virginia (ID Guide With Photos)
Did you recently come across a swallow in the state of Virginia, and want to know what species it was?
Identifying swallows in the Old Dominion State is not as easy as it might seem, since there are many swallow species in Virginia.
To help you identify the bird you saw, we’ll cover the most common swallows of Virginia in this article.
What are the types of swallows in Virginia?
The 6 types of swallows found in Virginia are:
- Barn Swallow
- Northern Rough-winged Swallow
- Purple Martin
- Tree Swallow
- Cliff Swallow
- Bank Swallow
While all of these swallows are breeding birds of Virginia, they are all migratory birds that only occur in the state during the summer breeding season.
Some of them are most commonly observed during migration season, as they pass through Virginia on their way to and from their breeding grounds further north.
Now let’s dive into the details, and take a closer look at each of these birds:
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 Virginia, and can be seen in the state from April through September.
It has dark iridescent blue upperparts, while 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.
It is a strictly migratory bird, and spends the winter in Central and Southern America.
Fun fact: swallows are extremely fast and skillful flyers, and only very few Virginia raptors are capable of catching them in the air.
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Scientific name: Stelgidopteryx serripennis
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.
In Virginia, this swallow is a common summer visitor throughout the state, and can be seen from April through October.
This bird is a burrow nester that occupies abandoned cavities built by other birds. It migrates south in winter, and spends the cold months in the southern US and Central America.
These small Virginia birds prefer to hunt over water, catching flying insects over rivers, lakes, and ponds. You can also often see them resting on telephone wires or other exposed perches.
Scientific name: Progne subis
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.
Similar to other species of swallows, the Purple Martin drinks in flight, by skimming the surface of a body of water.
While these blue-colored Virginia 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.
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.
Unfortunately, the Virginia population of Purple Martins has been in steady decline over the past decades.
One of the best ways to help protect these gorgeous birds is by putting up a Purple Martin house in your backyard.
Scientific name: Tachycineta bicolor
The Tree Swallows are relatively common birds in Virginia during migration.
They also occur as breeding birds in the northern and western parts of the state, where they are most often found close to lakes, marshes, and ponds.
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.
Tree Swallows winter in southern states, as well as in Central America.
Scientific name: Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
The Cliff Swallow 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.
The Cliff Swallow is a breeding bird in eastern Virginia and is found anywhere there are suitable habitats.
It prefers open country, as well as bodies of water, where it forages for flying insects.
Similar to several other species on this list, this swallow 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.
Scientific name: Riparia riparia
The Bank Swallow is a breeding bird of Canada and northern US states. This swallow breeds in Virginia, but unfortunately has become increasingly rare over the years.
Similar to Northern Rough-winged Swallows, 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.
And there we have the swallows found in the state of Virginia.
The varied habitats of Virginia are home to more than 400 different species of birds, and swallows make up a significant proportion of this rich avifauna.
These elegant birds, which 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 Virginia.