Violet-green Swallows – The Acrobats Of The Air

by Larry Jordan on March 4, 2008

Violet-green Swallow

Violet-green Swallow photos by Bob Sheldon

To celebrate my wife’s birthday we had a half a dozen Violet-green Swallows fly over our house on March 1st! These incredibly beautiful, acrobatic birds are a pleasure to watch. Just watching their aerobatics will relieve stress, kinda like watching fish in an aquarium only WAY better.

These streamlined birds have short, flat bills and wide mouthes.  They have long pointed wings and small weak feet.  They can be seen putting on acrobatic displays over open country and bodies of water spending most of their time in flight catching insects, their principal diet.  Swallows are very gregarious birds, migrating in large flocks by day you may see them perched on wires along the roadside.

The main features that distinguish the Violet-green Swallow from the Tree Swallow are the white patches that almost meet over the base of the tail and the white on their face partially encircles the eye.  The male is velvety green with violet above and is clear white below.  The female is a little duller in color, grayish on the sides of the head and the forehead.

One of the cool things about Violet-green Swallows is that they will nest in man made nest boxes or birdhouses.

Violet-green Swallow

Another Male photo by Bob Sheldon

Violet-green Swallows nest in natural tree cavities, under the eaves of buildings, in the crevices of cliffs and in man made nest boxes.  They will compete with other cavity nesting species for these nest sites.  Many bluebirders who moniter nest boxes will place two birdhouses 25 feet apart to accomodate swallows as well as other cavity nesting species such as House Wrens, Chickadees and Titmice.  All these species will nest in a typical bluebird house with a 1 1/2″ entrance and 20 – 25 square inches of floor space.

One of the most important things about Violet-green Swallows is that their diet consists almost entirely of flying insects.  They are aerial feeders which makes them such a joy to watch.  They will also forage off the surface of ponds and occasionally on the ground. 

Violet-green Swallows are a western bird.  You will find them from the Rockie Mountains west to the Pacific coast and from central Alaska to Mexico’s highlands.  They build their nest out of stems, twigs, grasses and hair and then line the nest with feathers.

To see more of Bob Sheldon’s photos go to: Bob’s Photo Site

Watch this very short video showing a Tree Swallow snatching a feather from someone’s hand: You Tube Video

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Gene Derig March 6, 2008 at 12:56 pm


We live in Anacortes, Washington. I read where you saw your first violet greens March 1st.

We don’t normally see the Violet Greens until the last week of March or so. Where are you located?

Spring is here–at least where you live.

Great photos. Thanks.


Larry March 6, 2008 at 11:21 pm

Hi Gene,

We live near Redding, California, about 160 miles north of Sacramento, in the town of Oak Run. We live in the foothills at 1600 foot elevation. Check out my “About Me” page in the right hand column.


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