The New Student's Reference Work/Swallows
Swal′lows, insect-eating birds with long pointed wings, noteworthy for rapidity of flight. Blanchan speaks of the swallow as “the typical bird of the air, as an oriole is of the trees and a sparrow of the ground.” There are about one hundred species in all parts of the world. Six are common in the United States. All devour an immense number of insects and are beneficial to the farmer. The common barn-swallow is widely distributed and abundant. It is a little larger than the English sparrow, has a wide wing-spread, above is of a glistening steel-blue shading into black, underneath a warm chestnut-brown and shining buff, tail noticeably slender and deeply forked. The nest is built sometimes outside, sometimes inside, a barn or other building, is made of mud-pellets mixed with straw and is lined with hay, feathers and other soft material.
The swallow is a mason,
And underneath the eaves
He builds a nest and plasters it
With mud and hay and leaves.
The four to six eggs are white with markings of brown and purple. The cliff or eaves-swallow is a square-tailed bird smaller than the foregoing, which builds numerous nests in colonies under the eaves of barns, other buildings and cliffs. The bank-swallows are our smallest swallows, being about five inches long. They dig tunnels in sand-banks, two or three feet deep with a nest of grass and feathers at the end. The tree-swallow has the under parts white. It nests in hollow trees or in bird-boxes near dwellings. The rough-winged swallow resembles the bank-swallow. It is common in the west, making nests in sand-banks. The purple martin is the largest of our swallows, being about eight inches in length. Swallows resemble the swifts or chimney-swallows and goatsuckers, but the latter belong to quite a different order. All swallows live in colonies. A pair is said to mate for life, but this may be but one of the numberless tales that make up the mass of tradition about this bird. Superstition has long protected the swallow, it being considered ill-luck to kill one. See Martin, Nesting-Boxes and Swift.