Northern Rough-Winged Swallow Feeding Young

Northern rough-winged swallow feeding young

Taking a walk at Muir Creek yesterday I was privileged to see a Northern Rough-winged swallow feeding young.

Hearing a lot of chattering I looked up and there was a Northern Rough-winged swallow that had apparently fledged as it was no longer in the nest but was still requiring the parent to feed it.

I don’t often see the Rough-winged swallow as normally it would be a barn swallow or a violet-green swallow. They seem to be the most common in this area.

So I was very excited to not only come across the Rough-winged but to actually see it being fed.

Here is an uncropped picture so you can see how high it was up in the tree from where I stood on the ground.

northern rough-winged swallow at a distance

Wished the bird was lower down, but when you are photographing birds, sometimes you have to take what you get.

When cropping the picture, you are able to see the colours and the features a little more clearly even though you are still looking up at them.

northern rough-winged swallow juvenile cropped

The juvenile would sit perfectly still waiting and then all of a sudden it would start to vocalize and fluff up. Its wings would start to flutter like it was trying to fly on the spot and it was then you knew that the adult was coming.

There were a lot of swallows flying about, so it’s amazing that they know when the food is coming just for them.

In the picture below it looks like the parent is flying away, but in actual fact is was coming to the juvenile in a roundabout fashion.

northern rough-winged swallow juvenile

You can see the young bird assuming a typical feeding position with mouth open and wings fluttering. It’s just like a small child wanting to be fed and they are so demanding. The parents are kept busy at feeding time which appears to be at all times.

northern rough-winged swallow parent bringing food to juvenile

The parent is coming in with a bug or dragonfly and what I found fascinating is that even though the juvenile is perched the parent is on the fly. I never saw it take a rest all the time I was watching. It would just get a bug and do a fly by the baby feeding on the wing.

This shot is my favourite. It shows the parent literally shoving the bug down the juvenile’s throat with the parent still flying. I guess that’s one way of making sure that the food goes down. 🙂

northern rough-winged swallow parent feeding juvenile

I had my camera on burst mode so these pictures were taken as fast as my camera would take one shot after another.

In the picture below the parent is just pulling out and I love how you can see the young one’s eye over the wing.northern rough-winged swallow feeding juvenile

Once fed, the parent heads off to get them another bug. I know… I know, the parent looks like it’s flying towards the juvenile, but in fact, it flew behind it and then back towards it. You can see that the juvenile isn’t looking very interested hasn’t assumed its feeding position.

northern rough-winged swallow parent leaving after feeding fledgling

When all is said and done, the juvenile sits on the branch patiently or impatiently awaiting its next bug. It’s a tough life.

northern rough-winged swallow juvenile after feeding

Some interesting facts about Northern Rough-winged Swallows

Stelgidopteryx serripennis
  • The name comes from the fact that the outer wing feathers have small hooks or tiny serrations on their front edges. This can only be seen when the bird is up close like if they have been caught to band.
  • small bill
  • dull brown head and back
  • throat pale brown
  • wings long and pointed
  • square tail
  • the range is from right across southern Canada and the US and right down to Panama
  • they nest mainly in burrows in sandy, vertical banks that they either dig themselves or use an existing hole
  • they usually lay 5-7 eggs and incubate for 12-16 days
  • both parents feed the young
  • the young leave the nest in about 19-20 days and continue to get fed a few days after they leave the nest. This must have been just when I saw them.
  • their migration takes them to Mexico and Central America for the winter arriving back here in April


  1. How lucky you are to have captured a Rough-Winged swallow. I had never even heard of them and to capture the feeding process is astounding.
    Have you thought of submitting the photos to Birds and Bloom?


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