Violet-green Swallows

Violet-green Swallow, male, California

Violet-green Swallow, male, California

Every summer the Violet-green Swallows nest here in the western U.S., and I am treated to many weeks of their close presence as they vie for a nest box, then build a nest and produce a family.


They arrive every February from their winter grounds of Mexico and Central America, signalling summer is around the corner.  Usually they come for a few days, then we have a cold snap and they leave, then it warms up; and this pattern continues until one day we start to see them gathering nesting materials.  As I live in a forest full of pine trees, pine needles are the building material of choice.  I find it comical to watch both genders figure out ways to enter the one inch nest box hole with a four inch missile.  California,-VG-Swallow-front


I love watching swallows fly more than any bird on this planet.  Their acrobatics are astounding. The insect diet contributes to their dexterity in flight, for they are constantly chasing and catching bugs “on the wing.”  They eat mosquitoes and flies, wasps, moths, and winged ants to name a few.  The swallows remain our handy and organic insect control.


California,-VG-Swallow-female-on-nestboxTachycineta thalassina are found only in the American West, and only in the summer months. But there are 83 species of swallows and martins occupying the globe, and they live on all continents except Antarctica.


The violet-green swallow lays 4-6 eggs in their neat nests, and spend many weeks raising their young.  The fledglings are nearly adult size when they begin flying, and once they hit the skies the only difference they display from their parents is more wing beats and less soaring, and that’s only for a week or two.


Violet-green swallow eggs in nest box

Violet-green swallow eggs in nest box

When the swallows are done breeding, usually in July, they return to Mexico in large flocks, and their cheerful incessant chee-chee chirping  ceases to exist.  Fortunately, they will be back in February on or about the very same day they arrived here last year, and the whole beautiful cycle begins again. 


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander





66 thoughts on “Violet-green Swallows

  1. A very aptly named bird I think Jet. Such astounding color and Athena has some fabulous captures here. do you think the acrobatics are all for the purpose of food collection or are they free spirits who enjoy the adventure of it all from time to time? You can imagine which answer I hope for. 🙂

    • Sue, your comment has me beaming. I have witnessed many birds–ravens come first to mind–playing in their flight, doing nothing but fun things, so I like to believe that swallows are doing more than just hunting as they soar and dip and twist. Loved this question, my friend. Ao glad you enjoyed the photos too, swallows are tricky to photograph, espec. capturing the violet and green which are contingent upon the sun. 😀 😀

    • They are indeed remarkable, lovely to see two such deep tones on one bird. Violet is espec. tricky to photograph, because the blue tones are structural and can look black at times. Athena has waited years to capture this beauty perched, in the sun, with a natural perch; rather than a bird box or roof edge. So glad you enjoyed it Cindy! 😀

  2. I’m awestruck at that first image Athena captured. As someone already mentioned, catching that color (or any shot of these speedy darting birds) is something closer to a miracle in my experience. Also learned a bunch from your contribution. We had barn swallows (if I remember correctly) building their nests on the patio in Utah, then here it’s been a green variety, but I’m not sure which one. They are enough to bring a smile anytime I see them.

    • Hi Gunta! So glad you enjoyed that first photo. One day a v-g swallow was checking out one of our nest boxes and he perched on a nearby tree, a real departure from his favorite roof edge. It was sunny at that moment and Athena went running to capture it. Turned out that nest box didn’t get chosen and he nested in a different box and never returned to that tree, so it was great she took advantage of that rare moment. I, like you, find the swallows always bring a smile. Thanks so much for your wonderful comment Gunta. 😀

  3. I have seen these dear little birds in California and loved to hear them. When I lived in Wales, there were ancient swallow boxes in the room of my 300 year old cottage, and sure as day and night, the swallows would return every May….and it was such a wonderful site to behold…and yes it meant that summer was with us. Thank you for another lovely post…janet.

    • Oh so glad to have shared the swallow visit with you, Janet, and that it brought back your much-loved Wales cottage. How wonderful that you, too, have experienced the joys of returning swallows. Thanks so much for sharing it, Janet. 😀

  4. Swallows I’ve seen in many places but I have abstained from using the camera, I’ve rather observed their intricate flying patterns which are mind boggling! They might have extremely fast brain reaction to calculate distances and speed in fractions of a second time! Thanks Jet, terrific post! 🙂

    • I agree, HJ, the swallows are brilliant fliers, it really is mind boggling. Sometimes they like to catch bugs right next to the house and they come zooming in and it looks like they’re going to smash into the house, but they never do — veer off at the last minute–that calculation you speak of. So very happy you enjoyed the post, HJ, and as always, enjoyed our exchange. Thanks so much! 😀

  5. I’m guessing that the arrival of the Violet-Green Swallow in the west is as welcome a sight as a flock of Eastern Bluebirds here in February. I’m a bit honored when they build a nest in our yard or simply rest in a tree. Again, it’s the color that make them so special, along with a little “je ne sais quoi,” as Sue noticed about the swallow. 😉

    • You understand the specialness of the swallow all the way around, Elisa–their color, spirit, and harbinger aspect. So happy you enjoyed today’s post — thanks so much for stopping by. 😀

  6. The first time I saw one of these birds was at Mammoth Springs in Yellowstone. I always thought tree swallows to be the beauties, but the VG is spectacular! Great captures by Athena, of course. I expect no less, you know. (You’ve got us kind of spoiled.)

    • Your wonderful comment sent a big smile across my face, Shannon — I’m glad you’ve gotten spoiled. lol. Also glad you have had the pleasure of spotting these beauties in your travels. Pure delight! Thanks so much~~ 😀

  7. I haven’t had the privilege to meet this beautiful swallow in person. Thank you for sharing their story with beautiful photos! I can believe how amusing it can be to watch them enter the small nest hole with big cargo 🙂

    • So very glad you enjoyed the swallow post, pc, and I appreciate your visit. The swallows have been gone for about 3 weeks now, and I miss them; it was great to write about them and re-live the glory. I hope you are enjoying your adventures, as I know you and Mrs. PC are. My best to you both. 😀

    • Sometimes when I’m watching a swallow I can pretend to be one and soar with them, it’s marvelous. So glad you enjoyed the post, Andrea, and I like knowing you watch swallows too. 😀 😀

  8. Beautiful photography! How wonderful that you get to enjoy this beautiful swallow. Apparently, these guys do make it up here to the southwestern part of Alberta, but I’ve yet to see one. I love watching the acrobatics and amazing aerodynamics of all swallows—they are such magnificent flyers. Have a great weekend! :))

    • They are, indeed, magnificent fliers, Jeannie. I, too, love watching them and have been entertained for many hours. I’m delighted you enjoyed the post my friend. 😀

  9. What lovely colours these little ones are! I’m never sure of the difference between swifts and swallows but we often sit watching them swoop in and out of their nests in the Algarve. 🙂

    • They are so amazing to watch swoop. As a general rule, the swifts are bigger than the swallows; and interestingly, they are not related. But they’re both a joy to observe. Thanks so much for your generous comments, Jo — much appreciated! 😀

  10. Tachycineta thalassina …. A name that betrays many of their characteristics.
    Such a beautiful and hyper-active birdie,dear Jet!Fabulous the striking colour of their plumage,Athena did a very good job!I so much like the display of their eggs and the way you described their “building” abilities!Happy Sunday my wonderful friend 🙂 ❤ xxx

    • I’m glad you absorbed the utter joys I have had with these delightful swallows, Doda. Thanks too, for the compliments on Athena’s photography. They are so difficult to capture, and then finally one day, five or so years into working on photographing this elegant species, they landed on a tree in the perfect light and she went running. Wonderful to hear from you, thanks so much. 😀

    • It is tricky to catch the violet green colors on these swallows, Jim, because they are so fast, as I am sure you know. Since they nest here and perch more often, we have the joy of seeing their still and beautiful form. They are so lovely to watch in their swooping action, aren’t they? Thanks so much! 😀

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