Swallows are classified as perching birds. They are found on every continent except for Antarctica. Swallows are insect eaters, flying with great agility through the air to catch them on the wing.
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Swallows have a very streamlined body, long and slender, with lengthy and pointed wings. The head of a swallow is small but the beak, which is short, is strong and the jaws open wider than most birds. The tails of swallows can be forked or square-ended. The legs of the swallow are short as they are more adapted for perching than walking. Most species of swallows are white below and glossy blue or green above.
Swallows are what is known as cosmopolitan in distribution, meaning they have a wide range across the globe. The barn swallow is the most common swallow species and is found over most of the Northern Hemisphere. The swallow depends on an insect population for its food, so they will be located wherever insects are plentiful. They will live by rivers, marshes, farmlands, grassy fields, savannas, and open wooded areas. Those swallows that live in colder climates must migrate south in the colder months as the insects that they feed on die off from the weather.
These birds can be picky when it comes to what they eat. They will choose different insect populations to feed on throughout the year, focusing on whatever is abundant. Swallows will eat larger insects if they can, swooping back and forth through the air at speeds that can reach 35 mph. The bird will bank and swirl around in pursuit of the faster bugs or take its time when it encounters groups of slower moving prey. They even try to avoid stinging insects such as bumblebees and wasps.
The barn swallow is found in every state in the continental United States and also in Alaska. The cliff swallow nests in large colonies under bridges, in cliffs and on buildings. They live in North America but spend the winter in South America. The bank swallow lives in nests along the banks of streams in the soil or sand, sometimes in colonies as large as 2,000 birds. The beautiful blue tree swallow is the first swallow back in the spring partly because it is one of the few swallows that eat some plants and don't totally depend on bugs for food.
The barn swallow will build its nest in the shape of a cup. It will be fastened to a vertical wall under an overhang to protect the nest, made out of mud and grasses. It also will contain hair and feathers. Unmated barn swallow males have been known to kill the young in a nest of a mated pair so as to break the pair up so that it may mate with the female.
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