The New International Encyclopædia/Swallow

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SWALLOW (AS. swalewe, OHG. swalawa, Ger. Schwalbe, swallow; perhaps connected with Gk. ἀλκυών, alkyōn, Lat. alcedo, kingfisher). A passerine bird of the family Hirundinidæ, a family represented by many similar species in almost all parts of the world. This family consists of birds which prey on insects, catching them in the air. They have remarkable powers of flight, now soaring to a great height, now skimming near the surface of the ground or of the water, and wheeling with great rapidity. The bill is short and weak, broad at the base, and deeply cleft, so that the gape is wide; the wings are very long, pointed, and more or less sickle-shaped when expanded, and have only nine primaries; the legs are short and weak. The tail is generally forked, and the plumage is close and glossy. The family is perhaps the most sharply defined and easily recognized of any in the order. The species are about eighty, widely diffused, being found in all countries except near the poles. Such of them as occur in the colder parts of the world are summer birds of passage, migrating to warmer regions when winter approaches and insects become scarce. Only seven species of swallow occur in North America, and all but one of these winter south of the United States, though in summer they range to the Arctic Ocean. The largest species is the purple martin, while the smallest is the bank swallow (q.v.) . Perhaps the commonest of North American swallows is the barn-swallow (q.v.). Another swallow numerous about farmyards and barns is the cliff or eaves swallow (Petrochelidon lunifrons), whose nest is the remarkable flask-shaped structure of pellets of mud often seen attached in rows to the outside walls of barns, just under the eaves. Formerly, as in the case of other swallows (see Barn-Swallow), this species bred in rocky places and placed its nests in large companies against the faces of cliffs.

A large and handsome swallow common throughout North America is the white-bellied or tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor), which is steel blue or green above and pure white beneath. Of the same genus is the exquisite little violet-green swallow (Tachycineta thallasina) of the Western United States, which is less than five inches long; the upper parts are velvety green and violet purple, while the under parts are pure white. The rough-winged swallow (q.v.) completes the list. South America has a large series of swallows very similar to those of the United States, and especially of that group of which the tree and violet-green swallows are a type. Some naturally breed in holes of rocks, others in hollow trees, or form nests of mud, straw, and feathers in some similar situation; but nearly all have abandoned their wild ways as fast as the country has been settled, and placed their abodes near or within buildings. The same pleasing habit characterizes the tribe in India, Africa, Australia, and everywhere else, and has led to the growth of much pleasant folk-lore, poetry, and sentiment. In Great Britain Hirundo rustica, the common or ‘chimney swallow’ (to be distinguished from the American chimney swift, q.v.), is much like our barn-swallow, and makes a similar nest, usually placed under a shed roof, in a half-ruined building, or often in a chimney. The geographical range of this species extends over a great part of Europe, Asia, and Africa. The window swallow, or house-martin (Hirundo urbica), is another very common European species, glossy black above, white below and on the rump; the feet covered with short downy white feathers, which is not the case in the chimney swallow.

Consult Sharpe and Wyatt, Monograph of the Hirundinidæ (London, 1885-94), which contains a description, with colored plates, of all the species of the world, and a full bibliography.

NIE 1905 Swallow - Familiar Swallows.jpg
1. WHITE-BELLIED or TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor). 4. CLIFF or EAVES SWALLOW (Petrochelidon lunifrons).
2. BARN SWALLOW (Chelidon erythrogaster). 5. BANK SWALLOW or SAND MARTIN (Clivicola riparia).
3. PURPLE MARTIN (Progne subis). 6. ENGLISH HOUSE SWALLOW (Hirundo urbica).