BIRDS OF NEW ENGLAND AND EASTERN NEW YORK - HOFFMANN

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SWALLOWS: FAMILY HIRUNDINIDÆ

Five species of Swallow (the Chimney Swallow, so called, is really a Swift) occur throughout New York and New England. The Barn Swallow is by far the commonest, and is found wherever old-fashioned barns exist; though a meadow-haunting bird in inland regions, it is a constant visitor along the sea-beaches, and over bays and harbors. The Bank Swallow occurs over lakes and streams near steep banks of sand. The other three the Whitebellied Swallow, the Eave Swallow, and the Purple Martin are more or less local, and may be wholly absent from any given locality. Where the Eave Swallow occurs at all, it is generally found in large colonies. The White-bellied Swallow is common in the Maine wilderness, nesting in dead trees, and is an abundant migrant along the salt marshes and where bay berries abound, hovering over the marshes by day, and gathering at night in enormous flocks.



[NORTHERN] ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW. Stelgidopteryx serripennis
5.75 in.

Ad.— Upper parts dark brown; throat and breast brownishgray; belly white. Im.— Similar to adult, but wings tinged with cinnamon.

Nest, in holes in sand banks, or in a crevice of masonry or a ledge of rock.

The Rough-winged Swallow is a summer resident of the lower Hudson Valley, locally common at Riverdale, Hastings, and Sing Sing; it occurs here and there in northern New Jersey, and in southwestern Connecticut as far north as Hartford. It breeds locally in Berkshire County and at Longmeadow, Mass., and will probably be found elsewhere in western New England. It arrives in April and leaves in August.

[graphic]

Rough-winged Swallow

The Rough-winged Swallow often breeds in banks with Bank Swallows, and can then hardly be distinguished from the Bank Swallow except by a trained observer; the upper parts are very similar, but the throat of the Rough-wing is darker, and the middle of the breast lighter than in the Bank Swallow, so that there is no appearance of a dark band across the breast. The choice of a nesting-site is often a clue to the bird's identity; if one sees in the region above defined what is apparently a Bank Swallow entering a crevice in masonry or in a natural ledge of rock, or a hole in a building, one may be pretty confident that it is a Rough-winged Swallow.



BANK SWALLOW. Riparia riparia
5.20 in.

Ad.— Upper parts grayish-brown; under parts white; a brownish band across the breast; tail slightly forked.

Nest, in a hole in a sandy bank. Eggs, white.

The Bank Swallow is a summer resident throughout New York and New England, arriving late in April, and leaving early in September. Over the surface of the large New England rivers, from the Housatonic to the Penobscot, and up the valleys of their tributaries, far into the mountains, little bands of these small brown swallows hunt back and forth throughout the summer.

Banks of clay or sand, cut through by the river, are breeding-sites for colonies of them; occasionally they take possession of a deserted gravel-pit. Here the little toes scratch out holes which run two or three feet into the bank; often there are many holes close to each other, and perháps a Kingfisher's hole, twice as large as the swallow's, among them.

The small size of the Bank Swallow, the absence of any blue or greenish lustre, and its harsh, gritty note easily distinguish it from all other adult Swallows, except in southwestern Connecticut and the lower Hudson Valley. Here the Rough-Winged Swallow must be taken into consideration. Young White-bellied Swallows have brown upper parts, and in their first plumage a wash of brown on the sides of the breast, but no decided band entirely across the breast, as in the Bank Swallow.

[graphic]

Bank Swallow



TREE SWALLOW; WHITE-BELLIED SWALLOW. Iridoprocne [Tachycineta] bicolor
5.90 in.

Ad. ♂.— Upper parts greenish-blue, especially bright in strong light; under parts pure white; tail notched, but not deeply. Ad. ♀.— Upper parts usually duller. Im.— Upper parts brown; a faint incomplete dusky collar across the breast. Nest, in a hole in a tree, or in a box. Eggs, white.

The White-bellied Swallow is a summer resident throughout New England and the Hudson Valley, but it is only locally common. Many of the boxes formerly tenanted by Swallows are now occupied by English Sparrows. In pure farming country, as along the Concord River, the White-bellied Swallow is still a characteristic feature of the farm. In wilder country, in northern New England, and occasionally throughout its range, it nests in deserted woodpecker holes in trees. About the first of April the earliest arrivals appear along the sea-shore, or some lake or river, and in a week or two their shrill notes are heard about the farmhouses where they breed. As early as July migrants begin to return from the north, and multitudes now collect over the marshes and along the beaches at the sea-shore, fringing the telegraph wires for rods, hovering in clouds over the bayberry bushes, the fruit of which they eat, or sunning themselves on the sand. A few stay into October.

[graphic]

Tree Swallow

The notes of the Tree Swallow are generally sharp and high, but occasionally sweet and twittering. Near a breeding-site the male may be heard singing before dawn, either from the box, or as he flies to and from in the darkness.

The pure white under parts distinguish this swallow from both the Barn and Eave Swallows, each of which has a reddish-brown chin. The Bank or Sand Swallow has a brownish band across the upper breast. Young White-bellied Swallows not only lack the steel-blue of the adult, but have a faint brownish collar nearly across the breast; they must therefore be carefully distinguished from the Bank Swallow, which has a broad dark band completely across the breast. The flight of all four swallows may be distinguished after much practice. The White-bellied often hangs in the wind with outspread wings and tail, and back curved like a dolphin.

BARN SWALLOW. Hirundo erythrogastra [rustica]
6.95 in.

Ad.— Entire upper parts, except the forehead, deep purplish-blue; forehead, upper breast, and throat chestnut; sides of throat and upper breast bluish; lower breast and belly varying from salmon to whitish; outer tail-feathers long and narrow; tail, when spread, much spotted with white. Im.— Outer tail-feathers shorter than in adult.

Nest, made chiefly of mud mixed with straw and lined with feathers, placed commonly against a rafter of an open barn. Eggs, white, speckled with brown and lavender.

The Barn Swallow is a very common summer resident of all New York and New England, wherever there is any grass-land. It arrives towards the end of April, and leaves early in September. It builds a nest of straw and mud on a rafter of a barn or shed, or occasionally on some projection outside, but not fastened by the side under the eaves. In late June the old birds are very busy, hawking for insects over the tall grass in the meadows, and flying in and out through the open door, or through a broken pane. In July the young appear, sitting on the shingles on the slope of the roof, or later on the dead branches of neighboring trees, or on the fences. Here they are still fed by the parents. A little later, they too are constantly on the wing and are fed in the air, the old bird and the young one mounting upward together, their breasts almost touching. The young at this season lack the long outer tail-feathers.

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Tail of Barn Swallow


The Barn Swallow's notes are pleasing and often musical. In the barn, or when flying in friendly companies, they utter a gentle twitter. When they become excited, this changes to a more emphatic kit-tic. The male often sings a song of some length, which ends with a very curious rubbery note. The song is uttered either high in air or from the barn ridge-pole.

When a Barn Swallow perches, the long outer tailfeathers show like two long needle-points projecting beyond the wings. These long feathers and the white in the tail distinguish the Barn Swallow from all the other swallows.

CLIFF SWALLOW; EAVE SWALLOW. Petrochelidon lunifrons [pyrrhonota]
6.01 in.

Ad.— Head dark blue; forehead cream-white; back dark, with bluish reflections; rump pale brick-red; throat deep chestnut; belly whitish; tail square or fan-shaped in flight.

Nest, of mud, under the eaves of barns or outbuildings. Eggs, white, spotted with reddish-brown.

The Eave Swallow is a summer resident of New England and New York, arriving about the first of May, and leaving early in September. In some regions it is very abundant, but it is often absent from wide areas, as about Boston. Even where it does not breed, it may be observed as a migrant near large bodies of water. Its ordinary note is a harsh monosyllable.

In western Massachusetts and in northern New England, colonies, numbering frequently over fifty nests, may be found under the eaves of barns on large farmsteads; these colonies are often a mile or so apart, whereas the Barn Swallow inhabits almost every outbuilding along the road. Toward the end of May, Eave Swallows are seen hovering daintily over mud puddles, or flying with a pellet of mud to their half-finished nests. These are composed of mud, and are gray when dry; they are placed outside of the barn, directly under the eaves, and are often retort-shaped, that is, furnished with a neck bent away from the round body of the nest.

[graphic]

Cliff Swallow

The sitting female often thrusts out her head, showing the cream-white frontlet, and in early July, as the parents fly up to the nests from below, or cling to the entrance, they show the reddish-brown rump.



PURPLE MARTIN. Progne subis
8.00 in.

Ad. ♂.— Entire body glossy blue-black; wings and tail brown. Ad. ♀.— Upper parts, wings, and tail brown, glossed on the bead and back with purple; throat and forehead gray; breast brown; belly whitish.

Nest, in “martin boxes.” Eggs, white.

The Purple Martin is a summer resident throughout New York and New England, but it is extremely local, and apparently growing more rare. Martin boxes set up on tall poles are an interesting feature of many villages and farmsteads, but through large sections of the country, most of Berkshire County, Mass., for instance, Martins are entirely absent. They seem to have a decided preference for the valleys of slow streams, where they may hawk over extensive meadows and sheets of water. They return to their boxes toward the end of April, and leave New England before September.

Their loud, deep voices and the rich blue-black of the males make them attractive neighbors. They spend much time sitting on the doorsteps, so to speak, of their houses, the ledge before the entrance to the box. In July the young birds are seen thrusting their heads out for food. The ordinary notes are a deep musical pew, pew, pew, and a twitter like that of the Barn Swallow, but richer. They have also a harsh squeak. The colonies nearest Boston are in West Roxbury, Hyde Park, Dedham, Lexington, and Concord; near New York city there are colonies at Plainfield, N. J.


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