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Swallows and Martins
Welcome Swallow
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Suborder: Passeri
Family: Hirundinidae
Vigors, 1825

Many, see text.

The swallows and martins are a group of passerine birds in the family Hirundinidae which are characterised by their adaptation to aerial feeding. Swallow is also used in Europe as a synonym for the Barn Swallow.

This family comprises two subfamilies: Pseudochelidoninae (the river martins of the genus Pseudochelidon) and Hirundininae (all other swallows and martins). Within the Hirundiniae, the name "martin" tends to be used for the squarer-tailed species, and the name "swallow" for the more fork-tailed species; however, there is no scientific distinction between these two groups.

It is believed that this family originated in Africa as hole-nesters; Africa still has the greatest diversity of species.


Swallows have adapted to hunting insects on the wing by developing a slender streamlined body, and long pointed wings, which allows great manoeuvrability and endurance.

Like the unrelated swifts and nightjars, which hunt in a similar way, they have short bills, but strong jaws and a wide gape. Their body length ranges from about 10–24 cm (3.9–9.4 in) and their weight from about 10–60 g (0.4–2.1 oz). The wings are long, pointed, and have nine primary feathers. The tail has 12 feathers and may be deeply forked, somewhat indented, or square-ended. A long tail increases manoeuvrability, and may also function as a sexual adornment, since the tail is frequently longer in males. Female Barn Swallows will select mates on the basis of tail length.

The legs are short, and their feet are designed for perching rather than walking, as the front toes are partially joined at the base, causing the bird to display a waddling gait.

The most common hirundine plumage is glossy dark blue or green above and plain or streaked underparts, often white or rufous. Species which burrow or live in dry or mountainous areas are often unglossed brown above (eg Sand Martin and Crag Martin). The sexes show no, or only limited, sexual dimorphism, with longer outer tail feathers in the adult male probably being the commonest distinction where one exists.

The chicks hatch naked and with closed eyes. Fledged juveniles usually appear as duller versions of the adult.


Mud nests made by swallows.
Hungry Barn Swallow chicks in nest

Swallows typically build mud nests close to overhead shelter in locations that are protected from both the weather and predators. Many cave and cliff dwelling species of swallow nest in large colonies. In historical times, the introduction of man-made stone structures such as barns and bridges, together with forest clearance, has led to an abundance of colony sites around the globe, significantly increasing the breeding ranges of some species. Birds living in large colonies typically have to contend with both ectoparasites and conspecific nest parasitism. Old males benefit most from coloniality, since they are able to maintain their own nests and benefit from frequent extra-pair copulations.


Barn Swallow chicks waiting to be fed

Swallows are excellent fliers, and use these skills to attract a mate and to defend territory. In general, the males select a nest site, and then attract a female using song and flight, and guard their territory. The size of the territory varies depending on the species of swallow; in colonial-nesting species it tends to be small, but it may be much larger for solitary nesters. The air speed of an unladen European swallow is estimated to be roughly 24 miles per hour (39 km/h).

Pairs of mated swallows are monogamous, and pairs of non-migratory species often stay near their breeding area all year, though the nest site is defended most vigorously during the breeding season. Migratory species often return to the same breeding area each year, and may select same nest site if they were previously successful in that location. First-year breeders generally select a nesting site close to where they were born and raised.

Most species hunt over open country or near water.

Swallows are able to produce many different calls or songs, which are used to express excitement, to communicate with others of the same species, during courtship, or as an alarm when a predator is in the area. Begging calls are used by the young when soliciting food from their parents. The typical song of swallows is a simple, sometimes musical twittering.

Species in taxonomic order

Subfamily Pseudochelidoninae (river martins)
  • Pseudochelidon
    • African River Martin Pseudochelidon eurystomina
    • White-eyed River Martin Pseudochelidon sirintarae
Subfamily Hirundininae (all other swallows & martins)
  • Psalidoprocne
    • Square-tailed Rough-winged Swallow Psalidoprocne nitens
    • Cameroon Mountain Rough-winged Swallow Psalidoprocne fuliginosa
    • White-headed Rough-winged Swallow Psalidoprocne albiceps
    • Black Rough-winged Swallow Psalidoprocne pristoptera
    • Fanti Rough-winged Swallow Psalidoprocne obscura
    • Eastern Rough-winged Swallow Psalidoprocne orientalis
    • Black Rough-winged Swallow Psalidoprocne holomelaena
  • Pseudhirundo
    • Grey-rumped Swallow Pseudhirundo griseopyga
  • Cheramoeca
    • White-backed Swallow Cheramoeca leucosternus
  • Phedina
    • Mascarene Martin Phedina borbonica
    • Brazza's Martin Phedina brazzae
  • Riparia
    • Brown-throated Sand Martin Riparia paludicola
    • Congo Sand Martin Riparia congica
    • Sand Martin Riparia riparia
    • Pale Martin Riparia diluta
    • Banded Martin Riparia cincta
  • Tachycineta
    • Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor
    • Violet-green Swallow Tachycineta thalassina
    • Golden Swallow Tachycineta euchrysea
    • Bahama Swallow Tachycineta cyaneoviridis
    • Tumbes Swallow Tachycineta stolzmanni
    • Mangrove Swallow Tachycineta albilinea
    • White-winged Swallow Tachycineta albiventer
    • White-rumped Swallow Tachycineta leucorrhoa
    • Chilean Swallow Tachycineta meyeni
  • Progne
    • Purple Martin Progne subis
    • Cuban Martin Progne cryptoleuca
    • Caribbean Martin Progne dominicensis
    • Sinaloa Martin Progne sinaloae
    • Grey-breasted Martin Progne chalybea
    • Galapagos Martin Progne modesta
    • Peruvian Martin Progne murphyi
    • Southern Martin Progne elegans
    • Brown-chested Martin Progne tapera
  • Notiochelidon
    • Brown-bellied Swallow Notiochelidon murina
    • Blue-and-white Swallow Notiochelidon cyanoleuca
    • Pale-footed Swallow Notiochelidon flavipes
    • Black-capped Swallow Notiochelidon pileata
  • Haplochelidon
    • Andean Swallow Neochelidon andecola
  • Atticora
    • White-banded Swallow Atticora fasciata
    • Black-collared Swallow Atticora melanoleuca
  • Neochelidon
    • White-thighed Swallow Neochelidon tibialis
  • Stelgidopteryx
    • Northern Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx serripennis
    • Southern Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx ruficollis
  • Alopochelidon
    • Tawny-headed Swallow Alopochelidon fucata
  • Hirundo
    • Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
    • Red-chested Swallow Hirundo lucida
    • Angolan Swallow Hirundo angolensis
    • Pacific Swallow Hirundo tahitica
    • Welcome Swallow Hirundo neoxena
    • White-throated Swallow Hirundo albigularis
    • Ethiopian Swallow Hirundo aethiopica
    • Wire-tailed Swallow Hirundo smithii
    • White-throated Blue Swallow Hirundo nigrita
    • Pied-winged Swallow Hirundo leucosoma
    • White-tailed Swallow Hirundo megaensis
    • Pearl-breasted Swallow Hirundo dimidiata
    • Montane Blue Swallow Hirundo atrocaerulea
    • Black-and-rufous Swallow Hirundo nigrorufa
  • Ptyonoprogne
    • Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris
    • Rock Martin Ptyonoprogne fuligula
    • Dusky Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne concolor
  • Delichon
    • House Martin Delichon urbicum
    • Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus
    • Nepal House Martin Delichon nipalense
  • Cecropis
    • Greater Striped Swallow Cecropis cucullata
    • Lesser Striped Swallow Cecropis abyssinica
    • Rufous-chested Swallow Cecropis semirufa
    • Mosque Swallow Cecropis senegalensis
    • Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica
    • Striated Swallow Cecropis striolata
    • Rufous-bellied Swallow Cecropis badia
  • Petrochelidon
    • Red-throated Swallow Petrochelidon rufigula
    • Preuss's Swallow Petrochelidon preussi
    • Red Sea Swallow Petrochelidon perdita
    • South African Swallow Petrochelidon spilodera
    • Forest Swallow Petrochelidon fuliginosa
    • Streak-throated Swallow Petrochelidon fluvicola
    • Fairy Martin Petrochelidon ariel
    • Tree Martin Petrochelidon nigricans
    • Cliff Swallow Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
    • Cave Swallow Petrochelidon fulva
    • Chestnut-collared Swallow Petrochelidon rufocollaris
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