Sand Pit Bank Swallow

Before posting on last week’s Colorado trip I have one more topic from early June. If you’re a county lister or just want to know your local breeding birds, then you like to know where your local breeding species reside. One of the more difficult in our endless cornfield environment is Bank Swallow. But if there are rivers nearby then odds are there are breeding gravel or sand pit Bank Swallow.

sand pit Bank Swallow
A photo of a distant Bank Swallow at a local gravel pit.
A cropped shot to show its brown color is richer than Northern Rough-winged Swallow or Tree Swallow.

My first encounter that Bank Swallows live in sand pits was noticing them in an old one by the Illinois River.  The Bank Swallows would dig their nesting holes in the piles of sand by the river. I later noticed this happening at a small gravel quarry on a tributary river. The trick for the Bank Swallows was to make sure they picked a sand pile that wasn’t active. Or all their digging would be for naught!

The swallows would come up out of the gravel pit in small groups and head out over the fields.

When we moved to Indiana I started checking local sand pits. It didn’t take long to find them present at a large quarry in SE Johnson County. I couldn’t see the nesting holes so I waited on an adjacent road. It wasn’t long before they started flying over one, two, and three at a time.

Bank Swallows are fairly easy to ID if you can hear their Electric Call and to my eye they are noticeably smaller and a richer brown than other swallows.

Bank Swallows seem smaller than other swallows, even at a distance.

Even though the dark chest band is noticeable in the photo, unless you get lucky it’s not in the field. The only way I can ID them in the field is to spend time watching their habits.

I’ve also noticed they are the easiest to observe in mid-May when they are getting ready to nest. Or in late-July/early August when they’re grouping with other swallows to migrate. Otherwise they aren’t as active in the summer.

2 Replies to “Sand Pit Bank Swallow”

  1. Interesting observations. They likewise use gravel pits in Allen County, and I have also had luck with them in some of the larger steep-sided drainage ditches out in flat country.

    1. Thanks for pointing out “larger steep-sided drainage ditches”. We have several in the south part of the county so I’ll start checking them out.

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