Birds – Bank Swallow

(Clivicola riparia)


Length—5 to 5.5 inches. About an inch shorter than the English sparrow, but apparently much larger because of its wide wing-spread.

Male and Female—Grayish brown or clay-colored above. Upper wings and tail darkest. Below, white, with brownish band across chest. Tail, which is rounded and more nearly square than the other swallows, is obscurely edged with white. Range—Throughout North America south of Hudson Bay. Migrations—April. October. Summer resident.

Where a brook cuts its way through a sand bank to reach the sea is an ideal nesting ground for a colony of sand martins. The face of the high bank shows a number of clean, round holes indiscriminately bored into the sand, as if the place had just received a cannonading; but instead of war an atmosphere of peace pervades the place in midsummer, when you are most likely to visit it. Now that the young ones have flown from their nests that your arm can barely reach through the tunnelled sand or clay, there can be little harm in examining the feathers dropped from gulls, ducks, and other water-birds with which the grassy home is lined.

The bank swallow’s nest, like the kingfisher’s, which it resembles, is his home as well. There he rests when tired of flying about in pursuit of insect food. Perhaps a bird that has been resting in one of the tunnels, startled by your innocent house-breaking, will fly out across your face, near enough for you to see how unlike the other swallows he is: smaller, plainer, and with none of their glinting steel-blues and buffs about him. With strong, swift flight he rejoins his fellows, wheeling, skimming, darting through the air above you, and uttering his characteristic ” giggling twitter,” that is one of the cheeriest noises heard along the beach. In early October vast numbers of these swallows may be seen in loose flocks along the Jersey coast, slowly making their way South. Clouds of them miles in extent are recorded.

Closely associated with the sand martin is the Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis), not to be distinguished from its companion on the wing, but easily recognized by its dull-gray throat and the absence of the brown breast-band when seen at close range.