Swallow, the general name of the diurnal fissirostral birds of the family hirundinidoe, not including the swifts, many of which are called swallows. (See Swift.) The bill is short and weak, very broad at the base and suddenly compressed to the tip; the wings long, narrow, and acute; primaries nine or ten, the first the longest; tail more or less forked; tarsi very short and weak, generally naked, and covered with scales; toes usually long and slender, with the claws moderate, curved, and sharp; the gape very wide and usually provided with short bristles. The typical genus hirundo (Linn.), having more than 50 species, embraces several well known, elegant swallows both in America and the old world, remarkable for their great powers of flight. Their food consists of insects, which they take on the wing, usually in the neighborhood of water, with remarkable skill and grace; they drink on the wing, sweeping along the surface of the water, and often wash themselves by a sudden plunge. They fly at the rate of a mile a minute in their ordinary evolutions, but are rather awkward on the ground from the length of the wings and the shortness of the legs; they live more on the wing than any other birds, even feeding their young in the air; their sight is very acute; they fly low in damp weather, where the insects are most abundant, and are thence supposed to foretell rain.
They are most numerous in the tropics, migrating to and from temperate regions; in Great Britain they make their appearance from Africa, where they spend the winter, from the beginning to the middle of April, and depart toward the end of October, crossing the channel singly or in small parties; they often alight on vessels, and sometimes fall into the sea. In the United States they arrive about a month later and depart several weeks earlier. Most species prefer the neighborhood of man, building their nests in society in hi3 dwellings and buildings; they form attachments to places, returning year after year to the same nests; they are docile and have been partially domesticated; a single bird probably collects about 1,000 insects in the course of a day. The nests are generally made of clay or mud mixed with straw and grass, of various forms, and attached externally to some building; many species breed in holes in sand banks, at the end of which is the nest of grasses and feathers; the eggs are five or six. - The best known species in the old world is the chimney or house swallow (H. rustica, Linn.); it is 6½ in. long, bluish black above, with a band on the chest, and the forehead, eyebrows, and throat, ruddy; lower parts rufous white, with a white spot on the inner web of each tail feather except the two innermost; the tail is very long and forked.
As its name imports, it frequently builds its nest in chimneys a few feet from the top; it also nests in old walls and shafts of mines, and among the rafters of barns and sheds; the nest is cup-shaped, made of earth and straw and lined with feathers; the eggs are white, spotted with ash and red. The parents are very attentive to the young, and brave in their defence; they have two broods in a season, the second sometimes left to perish, not being able to quit the nest at the period of migration; the males are sweet singers, and very courageous. The analogue of this species in America is not the one commonly called chimney swallow with us (which is a swift), but the barn swallow (H. horreorum, Barton); it is about 7 in. long and 13 in. in alar extent, glossy steel-blue above, with concealed white in middle of back; it much resembles its European congener, though it has the pectoral collar interrupted in the middle, while in II. rustica it continues across. It inhabits North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific, appearing in the southern states from the middle of February to March 1, a few at a time, reaching New England in mild seasons by the middlo of May. It is gentle and easily tamed.
The nest is made of mud or moist earth mixed with grasses, and is attached to the beams and rafters of barns and outbuildings; it is generally about 8 in. long, 6 in. in the greatest diameter, and from beam to outside of shell 6½ to 4 in., weighing often more than 2 lbs.; the eggs are four to six, small and long, white with a few spots of reddish brown; incubation lasts 13 days, both sexes assisting, and both occupying the nest at night until the young are hatched. This species collects in large flocks in midsummer on barns and sheds, telegraph wires, etc, chirping almost continually, and making short sallies in search of insects. They start for the south by the end of August or first of September, early on some fair morning; they do not fly high, and follow the shore or the course of rivers. - The cliff or fulvous swallow (H. [pe-trochelidon] lunifrom, Say) is about 5 in. long and 12¼ in. in alar extent; the crown and back are steel-blue, separated more or less broadly by a grayish collar; the chin, throat, and sides of head dark chestnut; breast grayish brown; belly white; steel-blue spot on throat; rump light chestnut, and forehead brownish white; tail slightly notched.
It is found throughout North America from ocean to ocean; it is called republican swallow by Audubon, in allusion to the habit of associating to make their nests and rear the young. The nest is built under eaves and cornices, where it is partly sheltered from the rain; it is made of clay and sand, the entrance near the top, shaped like an earthen retort with the neck broken off; it is lined with straw and grass; the eggs are white with dusky spots; the nest is bravely defended by the parents. The white-bellied swallow or American house martin (H. bicolor, Vieill.) is 6¼ in. long and 12½ in. in alar extent, of a glossy metallic green above and white below; it comes earlier in the spring than the others, but is not so common; the nest is made in a hollow tree, lined with grass and feathers, and the eggs are white with a bluish tinge; it is as widely distributed as the others in North America, and some time before migrating southward gets very fat on myrtle berries (myrica cerifera). For the largest of the American swallows, see Martin. - The bank, sand, or river swallow belongs to the genus cotyle (Boie); it is the C. riparia (Boie), and the smallest of the American species, being 4¾ in. long and 104 in. in alar extent.
The bill is very flat, and extremely wide at base, gradually narrowing toward the tip; nostrils prominent and rounded; tail moderate, nearly even or very slightly forked; tarsi rather long, with a tuft of feathers near the toes behind. It is grayish brown above, sometimes approaching sooty, with paler margins; below pure white, with a band across the breast and sides like the back. It is generally distributed over America and Europe, wherever there is a -sandy pit or river bank; it is the earliest to arrive in the spring, and less familiar than the other.species; it hollows out a tubular gallery in the sand banks, often more than 3 ft. in length, at the end of which is a larger excavation for the nest; it is called sand or bank martin in Europe. There is no appreciable difference between the European and American birds.
Barn Swallow (Hirundo horreorum).
White-bellied Swallow (Hirando bicolor).
Sand Swallow (Cotyle riparia).