Focus on feathers – tree swallows

Focus on Feathers will be an ongoing series of blogs posts highlighting a particular species of bird with a bit of information about its behavior, some photos and other interesting facts.

It’s no secret that my favorite subject to photograph are birds. They can be very challenging to photograph, especially small backyard birds, and I think that’s why I enjoy it so much. Each species of bird I photograph has their own personalities and behavior quirks and so I spend a lot of time reading about the birds I am likely to come across when I am out with my camera. I find that the more I know about my subject the more success I have getting a good image of them.

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Take the tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) for example…

These guys arrive in my area (Massachusetts) in early spring. They are a lot of fun to watch as they dive and swoop through the air feeding on insects. They move incredibly fast and their flight patterns tend to be erratic so it makes them a challenge to track with the camera to get in flight shots. I spent a few days last week photographing them at a local favorite birding spot of mine…

Their habitat is typically open country near water, marshes, meadows and lakes and they breed in areas that provide both good nesting sites and an abundant supply of flying insects. In colder months when insects are in short supply they will survive on berries. They nest in holes the same size as bluebirds and so the popularity of adding bluebird nesting boxes in recent years has helped to increase their numbers because they don’t have to compete with other cavity-nesting birds for places to raise their young.

When they were not displaying their impressive aerial acrobatic skills I was able to grab a few shots of them when they rested their wings for a few moments…

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I watched these two for a while as they flew back and forth continously to a nearby nesting box to feed their young. At one point both of them took a break and I’m guessing that they were talking about how keeping the kids fed was running them ragged!

Tree swallows are pretty common but according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey their population declined by 49% between 1966 and 2014 and currently the species rates an 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Their numbers are are most likely limited due to their natural nesting cavities disappearing due to land clearing, woodland management and cutting down and removal of dead trees. They also eat a high insect which can expose them to high levels of pesticides and other contaminates.

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For more information about the tree swallow visit the Cornell Lab All About Birds website here or the Audubon Guide to North American Birds website here.

You can view (and purchase) larger versions of the images in this post on my website here.

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