Look for Violet Green Swallows in the West

The violet green swallow is a shiny green flier that swoops and soars in the West. Discover where to find them, what they eat and more.

What Does a Violet Green Swallow Look Like?

violet green swallowCourtesy Amy Atwell
Violet green swallow in Colorado

Like other members of the swallow family, the violet green swallow’s plumage is shiny and striking. Males are green with brownish-purple wings and a purple rump, and they have a white belly and a white face. Green feathers cover the top of their head.

Females are similarly colored, if “muddier”; while they have some green feathers, their bellies are streaked with gray-brown and their heads are almost entirely brown as well. Juveniles follow the same plumage pattern as the males, but where males would have green or purple feathers, they have dark brown.

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“I spent a long weekend in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, with my family over the Fourth of July weekend. I spotted this beautiful violet green swallow (above) on two of my morning walks, perching in the same tree each time. The light hit him just right on this morning to appreciate his full coloration,” says Birds & Blooms reader Amy Atwell.

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Nest and Eggs

Violet-green Swallow - FemaleBirdImages/Getty Images
Female violet green swallow collecting nesting material

Similar to the tree swallow, violet green swallows are cavity nesters. They can nest in cliffs, but they’ll also use dead trees, old woodpecker holes or nest boxes like the ones bluebirds use. They will sometimes nest in groups of up to 25 pairs.

These swallows build cup-style nests that can take up to 20 days to complete. A typical clutch consists of 4 to 6 white eggs, and parents will raise one, or occasionally two, broods per season. The mother bird does most of the feeding, but the father helps, too. Learn more about swallow nesting habits.

Violet Green Swallow Range

violet green swallowCourtesy Rowland Willis
Violet green swallow in flight

Birders in the west who live near water or wooded areas have the best chance of spotting one of these glimmering green birds. During their breeding season, they’re commonly found almost everywhere west of the Dakotas. Their range stretches up from Washington into Canada and even into Alaska.

“I am a wildlife photographer and I recently moved to the Oregon Coast. A family of violet green swallows (above) set up home in one of our nest boxes, and I took the opportunity to add another bird portrait to to my collection. The parents raised all four chicks successfully,” says Birds & Blooms reader Rowland Willis.

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What Do Violet Green Swallows Eat?

Similarly to other swallows, this species eats bugs — and plenty of them. They swoop and soar through the air to snack on flies, beetles, wasps and other flying insects. While you might not spot these birds at feeders, if you have a buggy backyard, you might be able to bring them in. Grow native plants that bees and beneficial insects love to attract more bug-catching swallows.

Next, discover how to identify purple martins — and find out how to attract them with a purple martin birdhouse.

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Emily Hannemann
Emily Hannemann is an associate digital editor for Birds & Blooms. She has a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in magazine writing from the University of Missouri - Columbia. When she’s not writing and editing, you’ll find her swimming, running, or hiking. She knows blue jays are controversial, but she loves them anyway.