Identifing Swallows in the Eastern US

Here's how you can identify the six wide ranging swallows that can be seen in the eastern US.

Although not  feeder birds, most people that participate in backyard bird feeding eventually become familiar with some of the swallows that can be seen in the eastern US. They’re incredible to watching zipping around your yard or local park catching tons of insects. Here’s a photographic guide to the most common swallows that you might come across. I did not include Cave Swallow as it has a limited range is only is seen in most of the area as a rarity.

Identifing Swallows in the Eastern US©Rob Ripma
©Rob Ripma Tree Swallow is the most common swallow in most backyards. Both males an females have a pure white belly. The males have an incredible iridescent blue back while the female’s back color is much browner with very little iridescence. Look for this species using the same nesting boxes that are used for bluebirds.
Identifing Swallows in the Eastern US©Brian Zwiebel
©Brian Zwiebel Barn Swallows are also quite common. They are our only swallow with an extremely long tail which is easily observed in flight.
Identifing Swallows in the Eastern US©Brian Zwiebel
©Brian Zwiebel Northern Rough-winged Swallow is plain brown overall and has very few contrasting markings. It’s a very common bird in the Eastern US.
Identifing Swallows in the Eastern US©Brian Zwiebel
©Brian Zwiebel Cliff Swallow are unusual backyard birds but they are beautiful when you see them. They have a blue cap on their head that contrasts with a light forehead and rich rufous cheek. Although you can’t see it in this photo, Cliff Swallow has a pale rump that is very visible when the bird is in flight.
Identifing Swallows in the Eastern US©Brian Zwiebel
©Brian Zwiebel The Bank Swallow is our smallest swallow and like the Cliff Swallow, uncommon in most backyards. It has a brown back and white belly with an obvious brown band on its neck.
Identifing Swallows in the Eastern US©Brian Zwiebel
©Brian Zwiebel Purple Martins stand out among other swallows as the darkest overall and the largest. They nest almost entirely in communal houses provided by people since the majority of their nesting habitat in the eastern US has been destroyed.

Rob Ripma
Rob Ripma, a lifelong Indiana resident, has traveled and birded extensively throughout the Americas.