Skip to Content

Bank Swallow

Named after their behavior, these birds breed in large groups in burrows dug into the sides of sand or clay banks.

Known as the Sand Martin in other parts of the world, the Bank Swallow is very widely distributed. Bank Swallows are also very social, usually nesting in large colonies. Males begin excavating a nest burrow, and once they find a mate, both birds finish the excavation together.

Sometimes flood control projects can eliminate suitable banks for Bank Swallows to nest in, but other human activities such as gravel quarries and road cuts can provide the steep, vertical banks needed for nesting.

Description of the Bank Swallow


The Bank Swallow has brown upperparts, and white underparts with a well defined, dark breast band. The tail is brown and slightly forked.  Length: 5 in.  Wingspan: 13 in.

Bank Swallow


Sexes similar.

Seasonal change in appearance



Juveniles are similar to adults.


Bank Swallows inhabit fields, marshes and streams; always near water. They nest within vertical banks of sand or dirt.


Bank Swallows primarily eat insects.


Bank Swallow

Photographs © Greg Lavaty and Glen Bartley.

Bank Swallows forage by capturing prey in flight using their open mouth.


Bank Swallows are found nearly worldwide. In North America, Bank Swallows breed from southern Canada south to the southern U.S. They winter in South America. The population is stable.

Wing Shape

The shape of a bird’s wing is often an indication of its habits and behavior. Fast flying birds have long, pointed wings. Soaring birds have long, broad wings. Different songbirds will have a slightly different wing shape. Some species look so much alike (Empidonax flycatchers) that scientists sometimes use the length of specific feathers to confirm a species’ identification.

Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History

Fun Facts

The Bank Swallow is the smallest North American Swallow.

Bank Swallows nest colonially, sometimes in groups as large as 3,000 pairs.


The typical song consists of a series of buzzy notes.


Similar Species

Purple Martins
Purple Martins are considerably larger. Male martins are all dark. Females lighter underneath.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallows have a buffy or grayish throat without a breast band.


The Bank Swallow’s nest is bulky mass of twigs, straw, grass, leaves, and mud placed at the end of a 2-3 foot burrow within the side of a cliff or sandy bank.

Number: 3-6 eggs.

Color: White.

Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 14-16 days and fledge at about 19-23 days, though remaining dependent on the adults for another several days.


Bent Life History of the Bank Swallow

The Bent Life History for this species will be posted at a later date.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

Let others know your thoughts or ask an expert

Would you like to get new articles of birds (Once a month?)

No SPAM! We might only send you fresh updates once a month

Thank you for subscribing!

No thanks! I prefer to follow BirdZilla on Facebook