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Bank Swallow

Riparia riparia

Length: 4.75 inches Wingspan: 10.5 inches Seasonality: Summer
ID Keys: Chocolate brown upperparts, white underparts with brownish band across chest.

Bank Swallow - Riparia ripariaThe Bank Swallow is the smallest of the swallows found in South Dakota.  Strongly associated with water bodies, they can often be found in colonies of nest burrows numbering up to 1000.  Despite their small size and tiny feet and bill, they build their own nest burrows which may reach 3 or more feet into the bank.

Bank Swallows are cosmopolitan, found throughout North America and Eurasia, with migrating birds spending the North American winters in the tropics or in the southern Hemisphere. In other parts of their range they are primarily known as the "Sand Martin", or in Asia, the "Collared Sand Martin", given their trademark dark breast band.


Generally found near water, both during breeding and in migration.  Nesting sites are vertical banks of dirt or sand, nearly always right along a water body.


Feeds exclusively on insects, nearly always on flying insects which are caught in flight.


Forages almost exclusively by catching insects in flight.  Much of their in-flight foraging is quite low over water bodies, signaling their preference for some insect species associated with water.  Very gregarious, often found in large nesting colonies.

Nesting: June and July. Bank Swallows nest in colonial burrows, typically built in the side of a vertical bank with loose and sandy soil to facilitate burrowing. The male constructs the nest burrow, and for a bird tiny tiny feet and a tiny bill, he uses them to construct a nest burrow that may reach more than 2 feet into the side of the bank, with a larger nesting chamber at the far end. He then "advertises" his newly constructed home by flying around in front of the burrow, waiting for a female. A female flies in and may check out multiple burrows (and their owners) before selecting a mate.

The female builds a nesting platform within the nest burrowing, lining the floor with grasses, weed stems, roots, or leaves. She lays between 3 and 6 eggs, and both parents help to incubate them. The young hatch after about 2 weeks, and the young fledge from the nest about 16-20 days after hatching.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click to access an interactive eBird map of Bank Swallow photos


The typical call is a harsh buzzing, or a series of chattering buzzy notes.


Summers throughout much of the U.S. and southern Canada.  Winters in South America. In South Dakota they are summer breeding residents throughout the state, migrating southward for the winter.

Similar Species:

Bank Swallows aren't likely to be confused with some swallow species, such as Cliff Swallows or Barn Swallows, as those species have glossy blue backs (and other plumage characteristics) that easily distinguish them from Bank Swallows.  However, Bank Swallows could potentially be confused with the following swallow species:

Northern Rough-winged Swallow 8 - Stelgidopteryx serripennis Northern Rough-winged Swallow 5 - Stelgidopteryx serripennis Tree Swallow - Tachycineta bicolor Tree Swallow - Tachycineta bicolor
Northern Rough-winged Swallow Northern Rough-winged Swallow Tree Swallow (juvenile) Tree Swallow (adult)

Conservation Status:

Systematic surveys over the last few decades show modest declines in overall populations. However, they are still found across a very broad geographic area, and are common in parts of that range. The IUCN considers the Bank Swallow to be a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

May 2nd, 2010 - Near Lake Thompson, Kingsbury County, South Dakota -- Terry L. Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Cliff Swallow photos.

Audio File Credits

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Bank Swallow - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common summer breeder in the eastern part of the state, uncommon in the west.

Additional Bank Swallow Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Bank Swallow 1 - Riparia ripariaBank Swallow 2 - Riparia ripariaBank Swallow 3 - Riparia ripariaBank Swallow 4 - Riparia ripariaBank Swallow 5 - Riparia ripariaBank Swallow 6 - Riparia ripariaBank Swallow 7 - Riparia riparia