Nature Alert: Swallows

In the Willamette Valley, we are fortunate to have a plethora of swallow species that share our home on the landscape while breeding from spring to fall. Some of the most common species can easily be found in open areas above bodies of water, wetlands, or meadows, as well as suburban parks and playing fields, darting this way and that in their quest to feed on insects at day’s end;  gliding and pivoting in ways you would think could only cause collision. 

This agile fleet includes tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) that feature deep blue, iridescent backs, white undersides, and crescent-shaped tails; violet-green swallows (Tachycineta thalassina) which incorporate the colors of their namesake on their backs, but maintain similarly white undersides and crescent tails; and barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) who are more fully cloaked in blue with a rusty-orange throat and smaller area of tan-white underneath, and have much more dramatically forked tails. Also helpful in differentiating between the species is a little knowledge of their nesting habits. Tree and violet-green swallows generally create nests from grass and feathers in natural tree cavities or man-made birdhouses, while barn swallows use mud to create nests in barn and bridge beams. 

Ready to embark on some swallow-centric birding? Confirmed swallow sightings include the meadows of Timberhill Natural Area, just downslope of the City-owned Chip Ross Park, and along the more accessible Betty Griffiths boardwalk and trail. All of these options can be reached via Chepenafa Springs Park, named after the band of Kalapuyan Natives that are the original inhabitants of our area, and includes mowed fields that may also be a worthwhile vantage point for the most relaxed birders to check out. Try one, try all, or try out your own spot – just remember as you scan the sky to look out for the unexpected spectacle of another sort that is certain to be taking place at the same time.

By Ari Blatt