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Swallows in Winter?

Most Barn Swallows migrate south for the winter. But recently, small populations have stayed through the winter, seeking out pockets of flying insects for food. To learn more about this winter surprise, visit

Full Transcript

Swallows in Winter?

Written by Frances Wood

This is BirdNote!
[Winter call of Black-capped Chickadee]
You’ve bundled up for the cold December weather and set off for a bird walk. The expected winter birds flutter past: chickadees, juncos, robins, even the lovely Varied Thrush.
Then a Barn Swallow swoops overhead. [Twittering of Barn Swallow] You recognize the long “V” tail of this superb flier, but wonder: How can this be? Swallows in winter? Swallows nest here during spring and summer, but they migrate south for the winter. Then another Barn Swallow darts overhead. [More twittering]
True, most Barn Swallows leave in fall, but recently, small populations have stayed through the winter.
These unexpected birds have adapted to survive the cold winter. Wintering Barn Swallows seek out pockets of flying insects for food, often along streams or near saltwater estuaries. Then at night, the birds become torpid, meaning their metabolism slows down to conserve energy. And they fluff up their feathers to stay warm. With the warmth of morning, they once again take wing to snatch up insects.
So don’t be surprised if you see Barn Swallows, an unexpected winter delight.
[More Barn Swallows twittering]
To see stunning photos of this and many of the other birds we feature, taken by nature photographer Paul Bannick, swoop on over to our web site, For Seattle Audubon and your local Audubon, I’m Frank Corrado.
Written by Frances Wood
Bird calls provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Black-capped Chickadee recorded by G.A. Keller; Barn Swallow by R.S. Little.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© Seattle Audubon 12/20/05


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