Tree Swallow, a Feisty Little Bird


There are many interesting facts about Tree Swallows, but what I found fun was their territory disputes. So Happy Monday with a few…


Tree Swallow Antics

Two nesting boxes were at the overlook parking area of the nature preserve, Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. You would think two boxes was a bit stingy for so many birds at this bustling bird refuge. The numerous swallows kept chasing off each other, with no bird actually claiming the nesting box. In fact, the greedy swallows tried to command both boxes. We had no idea what one pair would do with two boxes.


This went on for a long time and we were wondering why the two boxes were even next to each other since the swallows did not like having the company. The birder we talked with said the swallows would not bother a Blue Bird if it took possession of the other house, yet would fight off those of its own species. And that they did. There is a bird in the box above being harassed while trying to keep the box it temporarily occupies.

The bird below is on the fence and looking back at the box, surely plotting the next move.


Did you ever try to photograph them flying? Yikes, they are fast and jerky little buggers. I bet a lot of you never saw one really close. I know I didn’t. They are attractive dressed in iridescent blue and bright white. From below, all I ever saw was the white.


Rocket Bird, see its contrail?


Cornell says they make beautiful social patterns in the sky each day at dusk, but the ones flying above the nesting boxes were in a disorganized frenzy. We did not stay long enough for them to form a dense cloud of birds before settling in for the roost. Below they are likely feeding on insects with that seemingly chaotic aerial display.


I found them fascinating, but more fun when they landed. The birdwatcher that was viewing nearby said we will never get closer to them than we were here. I was about twelve feet away from the birds on the fence with my 400mm lens.  I walked to within five feet just to see how close I could get.  Some flew right by me where I could have snatched them from the air. The flying birds above were very high in the sky. I just cropped the images severely.

Photo Bombed

Photo Bombed


These birds are supposed to be very social. I guess all bets are off when a pair needs a nesting box and there are more pairs than boxes. Note some of them are banded. One thing interesting about them, they are readily studied because of their eagerness to nest in boxes like above. To read about them, see this article by an expert.

Bully Birds


These two appeared to have a disagreement, where the one looks really mad at the other.


Feathers get ruffled.


The grumpy one nudges the other off the box.


And it leaves.


Looking tough!

Even though the other bird is gone, the bird on the box still looks mad. I don’t think I would stick around this little grump either.


Seriously though, this was all new to me since I have had little experience with Tree Swallows. Check out this post from Nick Hunter on installation of eight blue bird nesting boxes, Habitat Management for Songbirds. Nick blogs at Nick’s Nature Pics.

My management practices are guided by some basic principles that help keep me pointed in the right direction: copy nature, enhance biodiversity, and plan for sustainable, cost-effective activities,” Nick Hunter said in his post.

Like this refuge, Nick also set up his boxes in pairs.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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63 Responses to Tree Swallow, a Feisty Little Bird

  1. Nick Hunter says:

    Excellent! The large number of birds certainly explains the aggressiveness and competition for limited nest sites. i have a few good flight shots but I tend to look like a fool when trying to get them, and find it best to just sit and appreciate the aerial display! Many thanks for the reference to my post – it seemed like a waste to let those personal experiences go cold in the archives..That is an aspect of blogging that I’m trying to come to grips with, now that I’ve been posting for 14 months and going through the cycle of life a second time around.

    • I agree. Many former posts have valuable information and they don’t always get the exposure worthy of them. Your post was very informative and shows you do for the environment what you write about in your posts. Maybe you should reblog some of these type of posts for readers new to your blog. I was glad you mentioned it to me and I hope my readers are visiting. Yes, these birds were rather nasty to each other. The birdwatcher told us the males will put up a fight to control a box, but not with a blue bird. I guess being small does have its disadvantages in the natural world some times.

  2. Great post, but the first photograph is a gem!

  3. debibradford says:

    Tree swallows converged on our little piece of heaven by the Tennessee River several years ago. Barn swallows and cliff swallows were common in our neck of the woods but not these guys. I was stunned by their beautiful, bright turquoise blue feathers and loved watching them hop on the ground feeding. You’re so right in that they are normally skittish and fly away at the slightest movement. I took some pics with my 400mm zoom … but it was long ago and I’m not sure where those pics are now. A lovely experience, and your post is absolutely gorgeous! Thanks for the images, the interesting data and bringing up some lovely memories!

    • Thanks Debi. I too am accustomed to barn swallows having had horses most of my life. They are really fast too. I saw cliff sparrows before also. Funny thing about this bird’s name. They did not get it because they perch in trees, but because they nest in tree cavities. I thought they looked like flying gemstones.

      • debibradford says:

        “Flying gemstones.” Perfect description! I did not know that about them – nesting in tree cavities. They are very striking birds, and very filled with themselves! Lots of Attitude!

  4. Rose says:

    I don’t know much about tree swallows–we have lots of barn swallows here. But I loved all the photos of the grumpy bully–these two made me smile:)

  5. lulu says:

    You do a fabulous job capturing birds with your camera. I’m not familiar with tree swallows. They are beautiful birds, and I can see why they are proprietary when they find their nesting place.

  6. Debra says:

    haha Amusing little guy. Love the drama here. Who could ever doubt that animals have inner lives after even watching them for a moment or two.

  7. pepaulmier says:

    Gorgeous birds, it is a shame that we have lost so many of them, by pesticides, and the eternal one, loss of habitat.

  8. thank you for these wonderful photos and informative post.
    enjoyed all the activity!

  9. Laurin Lindsey says:

    Wow wonderful photos! I love watching birds from my office window. They really enjoying spring in my garden. I hadn’t thought about nest boxes…perhaps I can ask my husband to make some. We get lots of birds migrating through here in Houston but some do stay and nest.

  10. Pat says:

    You have wonderfully captured some of the behavioral patterns of these little beautiful little birds..

  11. alesiablogs says:

    Feathers getting ruffled photo is too funny! That looks like me telling my son to clean his room! haha

  12. Donna, thanks for the great photography. Always know I’m in for a special treat when I see another post from you.

  13. What a generous offering, Donna! I’ve given up trying to find a favorite …they are all so uniquely beautiful! Happy Monday, my dear! 🙂

  14. Pretty bird, pretty bird. I haven’t seen these up close before.

  15. What beautiful blue heads they have! We must not have any of those around here because I’ve never seen one before. Great pics as usual. Blessings, Natalie 🙂

  16. They certainly have plenty of personality, pugnacious and not shy at all. And those shiny feathers make it look like they are wearing a worn suit.

  17. Alistair says:

    Donna, it may be new territory for you, but the average Joe blogger like myself would hardly get that impression.

  18. bittster says:

    You really made this into a funny post! and I like that you added the photobomb capture 🙂
    We have tree swallows here throughout the summer, and I love to listen to their animated chatter throughout the day…. and I hope they’re eating plenty of mosquitos! I should try a nesting box, I wonder if the area is open enough for them and they’d approve.

  19. You have beautiful pictures of the Tree Swallows. We think our pair came back from last year, but we cannot know for sure it is them. Last year, the female was still brown, but both birds are the beautiful blue. Today, I witnessed something new. The two were close together on the wire above the box, seemingly not aggressive and just started chattering at each other. They did this for some time, but never chased each other off. Of the few pictures I got, it looked like their were showing each other the insides of their mouths.

    Yesterday, we peeked in the box to make sure no wasps moved in and already saw the beginnings of a nest. Time to give them some white feathers! We’ve been hoarding our Pekin’s molted feathers to keep them away from the House Sparrows and we bring some out for our swallows. It is really neat watching them swoop down for them.

    • Thank you. Ha, I always get wasps in my boxes and I just gave up. I had a Samoyed and the birds would take her fur by the bushels after I brushed her. You duck is cute. I saw it on your site.

  20. The Jays here are pretty aggressive lately – one dive bombed Mr. Craves a few weekends ago while he was out grilling in the back yard. I wish I made a video because it was him, the Jay and the grill grate. Hubbie got it in the back of the head and he almost sent the grill grate flying – ha! All I could think is do not fling it into the sliding glass door. Pretty funny and still laughing about it:)

  21. debsgarden says:

    I love your photos of these beautiful birds, but the ones of the fussing bird are priceless! I think there should be more nesting boxes, placed at appropriate distances.

    • That is what I thought as well. Around the huge reserve there are many nesting boxes, but they are located in more areas where people are not frequenting. I think this was done for that reason. By the parking lot, the boxes are behind a fence that keeps people away from nesting birds, but it really is rather close to the fence.

  22. They are such beautiful birds. I don’t see them very often. I saw many of them last year as they visited now and then during the cicada emergence to feast. Excellent images.

    • Thank you. I don’t see them often either because they are not really garden birds unless you have a nesting box for them and the garden is located near water like they like. I would not mind having them kill off summer mosquitoes in the garden though.

  23. A.M.B. says:

    Wow, I’ve never seen such close up pictures of tree swallows before. They are stunning birds. What a gorgeous, shiny shade of blue!

  24. We have lots of tree swallows and barn swallows each year. They are delightful to watch. I love the story you told with your pictures — you captured their very essence. P. x

  25. Annette says:

    Cute little things, your tree swallows! We have swallows too but different types. Sadly they don’t nest on our property but it’s nice to see them fly by. A friend of mine in Ireland has put up lots of nestboxes at the university where she works and has attracted lots of breeding pairs. Our golden orioles have just returned so I’m over the moon 🙂

    • Golden orioles would be such a treat to see. I would love to see the swallows in Ireland. That country would be a dream vacation for me. Baltimore orioles are seen here, but I don’t see them very often.

  26. Oh my goodness they are so cute & what a pretty shiny set of feathers they have. You got some fun shots of these birds.

  27. Jet Eliot says:

    Very fun post, and great photos. I think swallows are some of the most delightful aerialists in the avian world….

  28. Love your photos, Donna. We’ve had tree swallows for quite awhile around our place. We first attracted them by accident when we put up bluebird nesting boxes. When the tree swallows arrive in the spring I usually hear them first before I see them. I love the chatter they make in flight. And sometimes I think they will check out several different nesting boxes before they settle on one. They also eat lots of mosquitoes as well.

  29. Oh boy do we have experience with these birds…they were late this year so the hoggish house sparrows tried to take all the houses…I had to step in for the bluebirds so the swallows were out of luck…I do not let them nest inside the garden as they are vicious once nesting and will attack more than any other birds we have here. Great captures.

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