Burrowing Swallow

Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) Photo Phil Rowntree.

With the warm weather, swallows have arrived. They fly expertly low over water and land, snatching insects in midair, and never seem to get tired. You could give yourself whiplash trying to photograph one in flight. Photographer Phil Rowntree, whose work will be familiar to many readers of this blog, got a reward for his patience and readiness: one of the birds rested for a few seconds on the fence at the south end of the park. He got these lovely portraits.

Many of the swallows here are Barn Swallows, notable for their bright orange and blue coloring. This one wears a modest plain coat of brown, with a fluffy white breast. It’s a Northern Rough-Winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis). They got that name the hard way. The leading edge of their wings, particularly the male’s, has little jags or hooks like rough sandpaper. The Latin name means “scraper wing” with “saw feathers.” The roughness is not obvious to the eye; you can only feel it when holding the bird in hand … not a great experience for the bird.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) Photo Phil Rowntree.

These birds have something unexpected in common with the Burrowing Owl. They make their nests in burrows, including burrows dug by ground squirrels. They also nest in holes, pipes, tubes, gutters, and similar structures made by humans. They aren’t exceptionally shy around people and may have even benefited from the spread of human settlements. However, they are strictly dependent on an insect diet, and anything that imperils the insect population spells trouble for these birds.

This bird is the first of its kind photographed and published on this website.

More about them: Wikipedia Cornell Audubon In Chavez Park

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