Swallows, Swifts and Purple Martins

Swallows and purple martins make their living almost entirely from the insects they can catch on the wing. Some species will eat berries in a pinch, but insects are the main staple.

Barn swallows are often seen along roadsides in Illinois in sweeping flights over fields.

Most swallows arrive early in the spring, and leave early in the fall, usually starting migration in late July or early August.

Chimney swifts are usually seen only in flight, and are smaller with a silhouette that seems to lack a tail.

A baby chimney swift (right) clings to a vertical surface like velcro. Chimney swifts build their nests on the inside of chimneys and under the eaves of old buidings.

Below, you will find a sampling of species found in Illinois.

Click here for more baby bird pictures.

Cliff swallows are most often found in open areas near water at migration time. Few stay in Illinois to nest due to competition for nesting sites from English house sparrows. Most nest north of Illinois. Numbers of cliff swallows seen during migration varies from year-to-year.

Barn swallows are widespread and are not afraid to make their homes near people. It is the most abundant swallow found in Illinois during summer. The orange underside separates it from the tree swallow for easy identification. Tree swallows nest in tree cavities, usually trees in and around water. They will also take over wood duck and bluebird boxes. Most tree swallows nest north of Illinois, but some stay and make their summer home here. Colonies of purple martins will nest in apartment-like houses, but they need open space around the house for their landing approach. They are large swallows that eat insects while in flight.

Left: Tree swallows congregate on a bridge at Lake Springfield. Right: A giant purple martin apartment house in downtown Griggsville, Illinois.

Photographs by Dennis Oehmke, Chris Young and Jane Seitz

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