As summer wanes, more and more young birds are at the feeders. It is great to see so many of the regular species apparently doing well. There is one whose presence I miss in the yard. For some unknown reason, the violet-green swallows did not return this spring.
When we moved into this house, they had been nesting in a birdhouse on a ponderosa pine tree near our patio. That tree had to be removed because it was rubbing the roof and was a fire hazard. However, the swallows seemed just as happy the next spring to find their house moved onto another pine on the opposite side of the house.
Here they had a full sweep of the open valley below in which to hunt insects, and I could watch their magnificent flight. For the few months they were here each summer, I thoroughly enjoyed watching their tireless flights.
These were violet-green swallows that do not arrive as early as some of the other swallows do. They arrived usually during the first week of May when spring has become fairly well established.
They choose their nest site quickly, and soon have a nest and eggs. As soon as the young are on the wing, they usually left my yard and began to gather into large flocks, especially on utility wires along the road. They swoop and dash after insects, many of which are pests that are troublesome to farmers, ranchers and gardeners.
When food is plentiful, they may stay in an area for a few days to several weeks. As more families join the group, it grows until you begin to wonder how many swallows a wire can hold.
These large flocks will soon migrate, but in the meantime, you may see adults still feeding young, and the young develop more flight skills as they feed themselves. Then one day, they are just gone, departed for their wintering grounds.
Violet-green swallows are sometimes confused with tree swallows, which are also fairly common locally. Tree swallows, however, prefer to nest near water. Look for them in dead trees along a creek or lakeshore.
They also arrive much earlier in spring, often arriving in such foul weather that you wonder how they will find enough insects to eat. Under such circumstances, they survive by eating berries that have been shriveled and frozen all winter.
Both tree and violet-green swallows have the same basic color pattern of a dark back and white belly. However, the violet-green swallow has a bit shorter tail. When perched, their wing tips extend beyond the tip of their tail while the tree swallow’s tail is just a bit longer or the same length as the tail. The violet-green swallow has a green iridescence on its back and violet iridescence on its wings, while the tree swallow has a blue-green iridescence on its back. The white underparts of the violet-green extend up on the face as well as on the rump, making the bird appear to have much more white when in flight.
The power line at Evergreen Lake is an excellent place to study swallows. You can set up a folding chair and lean back and study them to your heart’s content. When nesting, they dart into a nest box at what seems to be full speed and somehow seem to stop before they crash into the back wall.
They are absolutely incredible, outdoing both falcons and shorebirds in flight. Enjoy them for the next few weeks for they won’t be back until next spring.