Swallows Swooping at Nature Boardwalk

As temperatures rise and flying insects become more abundant, insect-eating birds become more common as well. One such group of birds is swallows, and lately we’ve been seeing lots of them at Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo.

A group of swallows is called a flight. This name is appropriate, as these birds are constantly in flight, never seeming to rest even for an instant. They eat on the wing, swooping to catch insects without missing a beat.

At the pond, we’ve been seeing mostly northern rough-winged swallows (pictured) as well as occasional barn swallows. The northern rough-winged swallow gets its name from tiny barbs on the edge of its wing feathers. This feature won’t help you ID the bird, however; under normal circumstances, the barbs are too small to be seen!

The barn swallow is named for its inclination to build nests on man-made structures such as barns. As part of the creation of Nature Boardwalk, the Lester E. Fisher Bridge was equipped with vertical slats on its underside to encourage the birds to nest here.

Distinguishing northern rough-winged swallows from barn swallows is quite straightforward: Barn swallows have dark-blue backs and wings, a rufous-colored face and a light-brown underside while northern rough-winged swallows are less flashy, with dark-brown backs and wings and a light-brown/buffy underside. The deeply forked tail of a barn swallow is another key field mark.

Come to Nature Boardwalk this weekend to spot them yourself!

Vicky Hunt

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