Streamlined

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Tree Swallow intensity.

Swallows have adapted to hunting insects on the wing by developing a slender, streamlined body and long pointed wings, which allow great maneuverability and endurance, as well as frequent periods of gliding. Their body shape allows for very efficient flight, which costs 50–75% less for swallows than equivalent passerines of the same size.

Game of Thrones, backyard edition

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A couple of Eastern Kingbirds arrived in the bird kingdom of Pond Field yesterday.

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They don’t hold still for long. Distinctive flight and buzzy song.

Behavior: Eastern Kingbirds often perch in the open atop trees or along utility lines or fences. They fly with very shallow, rowing wingbeats and a raised head, usually accompanied by metallic, sputtering calls. Eastern Kingbirds are visual hunters, sallying out from perches to snatch flying insects.

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Habitat: Eastern Kingbirds breed in open habitats such as yards, fields, pastures, grasslands, or wetlands, and are especially abundant in open places along forest edges or water. They spend winters in forests of South America.

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The Tree Swallows were not happy about the kingbirds and tried chasing them off, unsuccessfully. Not sure why. Maybe because they are already nesting in this deliciously buggy territory and don’t want to share?

Or is because kingbirds are such badasses?

The scientific name Tyrannus means “tyrant, despot, or king,” referring to the aggression kingbirds exhibit with each other and with other species. When defending their nests they will attack much larger predators like hawks, crows, and squirrels. They have been known to knock unsuspecting Blue Jays out of trees.

And speaking of defending nests, while I was attempting to photograph the flitting kingbirds a hawk soared overhead and the resident male Red-winged Blackbird took off for some aerial warfare to drive it off…

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Asymmetric warfare, but the little guy won in the end and the hawk soared off north and east.

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The male Tree Swallow watched the whole thing. Like many of the male birds now he perches at his post, on guard.

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Across the field, a kingbird was contemplating his summer kingdom.

It’s not called a kingbird for nothing. The Eastern Kingbird has a crown of yellow, orange, or red feathers on its head, but the crown is usually concealed. When it encounters a potential predator the kingbird may simultaneously raise its bright crown patch, stretch its beak wide open to reveal a red gape, and dive-bomb the intruder.

Here is one with his crest raised: Image.

The Eastern Kingbird is backyard bird number 53 for me.

Grab bag of May birds

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Brown-headed Cowbird at the top of the dawn redwood in our front yard.

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Gray Catbird at the edge of the red maple swamp out back.

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Common Yellowthroat takes off.

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Tree Swallow perches on the martin house “antenna.”

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Eastern Phoebe holds still for a moment.

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Red-winged Blackbird sings atop a maple at the edge of the swamp.

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Eastern Towhee, female, scuffling in leaves at the edge of the field.

Tree swallows at the shore

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Tree swallows perched on bayberry bushes in the dunes, Ocean City, N.J.

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Big flocks… presumably migrating. It was a pleasure to watch them swoop and soar and catch bugs on the wing (from the porch of our vacation rental), then sometimes all flutter down to rest in the bushes. And maybe eat bayberries?

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I wonder if the pair of tree swallows that nests each summer in our backyard migrates along this route too.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

Long-distance migrant. Tree Swallows begin migrating south in July and August, flying during the day and roosting in large flocks at night. Eastern populations probably migrate along the Atlantic coast to winter in Florida and Central America.

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So, since they prefer both flying insects and seasonally abundant plant foods it’s no wonder that after nesting Tree Swallows flock up to search for food. Tree Swallows are especially fond fruits of waxmyrtle and bayberry bushes that grow in sandy soils near seacoasts. They are one of the very few birds able to digest the energy-rich waxy outer coatings of these berries.

Purple martins and tree swallows nesting

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Tree swallow at home.

Nest box off Cross Beach Road, Seabrook Beach, Hampton-Seabrook Estuary. Took a ride out there on Sunday morning.

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On the north side of the road out into the marsh, colorful nest boxes and mostly tree swallows.

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On the south side of the road, more nest boxes and a purple martin gourd rack.

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Volunteers affiliated with New Hampshire Audubon put up the rack last year, after they noticed some martin pairs nesting in nearby boxes.

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Looks like the purple martins are happy with their new digs.

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Some pairs still prefer their old seaside summer cottages.

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I admire the creativity of the nest box builder(s)!

Great resource for learning about and tracking purple martins: PMCA

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Tree swallow pair.

Avian bug control specialists, they are nice to have around if you live next to a marsh.

More photos on Flickr: Purple martins and tree swallows nesting

Tree swallows are back

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Charming domestic scene from last Saturday morning: a pair of Tree Swallows and a plastic purple martin on the purple martin house in our back field past the pond.

We have had a purple martin house out there for years (well, we take it down in the winter) and no purple martin has ever been seen by us within the bounds of our 14 acres.

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Anyway we have grown quite accustomed to our charming tree swallows. They don’t care if we stand there and stare up at them. I guess they know how fast they can fly.

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The antenna perches are precious, aren’t they.

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The only negative thing about the situation is that tree swallows don’t nest colonially. So the other 7 rooms in the martin apartment house are unoccupied. Except sometimes there are wasps by the end of the season.

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Tree swallows eat a lot of insects… but not when they are mellowing out on the roof, watching the sunrise.

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Perched.

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“Oh please, I’m so shy!”

We live with Tree Swallows

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Tree Swallow perches companionably with a Purple Martin decoy.

We bought our “Purple Martin House” from S & K Manufacturing. Attractive and well-built, and probably perfect for Purple Martins.

Too bad the Tree Swallows get there first every spring.

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They are beautiful birds and not spooked when I just stand there and stare at them. They swoop down near me and the dog when we walk across the field, but not like they are trying to chase us away  – more for fun, I think.

Handsome aerialists with deep-blue iridescent backs and clean white fronts, Tree Swallows are a familiar sight in summer fields and wetlands across northern North America. They chase after flying insects with acrobatic twists and turns, their steely blue-green feathers flashing in the sunlight.

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Only drawback: Tree Swallows do not share the empty rooms in their spacious aerial apartment building with martins. And martins nest only in manmade housing now.

From Martin Competition

… if a pair of bluebirds or Tree Swallows has begun nesting in one compartment of a new or unestablished martin site they will try to defend the entire housing complex against other birds, which discourages Purple Martin “scouts” from settling at the new locale.

There are ways to handle this, involving a level of early to mid-spring observation and nest box guardianship that we have never been able to manage. So we live with Tree Swallows. They are pretty, inspiring to watch, and they eat a lot of bugs.

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Here is a photo from April three years ago – different martin house, same location in our back field, maybe the same Tree Swallows or relatives.

What bird would you be if you could be a bird for a day? Tree Swallows are near the top of my list because of their fantastic flying skills.