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Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Stelgidopteryx serripennis

Length: 5.5 inches Wingspan: 11 to 12 inches Seasonality: Summer
ID Keys: Brown upperparts, grayish brown wash on throat, white belly and undertail.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow - Stelgidopteryx serripennisNorthern Rough-winged Swallows are named for the tiny serrations on it's outermost wing feathers. Even their scientific genus name, Stelgidopteryx, means "scraper wing", while the species wing serripennis means "saw feather". Northern Rough-winged Swallows are more solitary than most swallows, and despite nesting in holes like their cousins the Bank Swallows, they don't typically form large nesting colonies.


Northern Rough-winged Swallows are typically found near lakes, streams, river banks, and bluffs.  They can be found nesting at a wide variety of vertical dirt banks, but they are typically near water. Most often they use burrows built by other creatures, although sometimes they will nest in a cavity in a man-made structure.


Feeds almost exclusively on flying insects.


Forages primarily while in flight, capturing flying insects in mid-air, usually relatively low to the ground.


Late May and June.  The nest of a Northern Rough-winged Swallow is in a cavity, traditionally a cavity in a tree or a recessed crevice in a rocky area, but they have now also started to utilize nest boxes.  The nest in the cavity is a cup built of grasses, sedges, and twigs, lined with feathers.  The female usually lays 4 to 6 eggs, and she alone incubates them.  Once the eggs hatch, both parents help to feed the young.  The young fledge after about 24 days, but usually continue to be fed by the parents for a few weeks after fledging.


Northern Rough-winged Swallows are not a very vocal species. They are occasionally heard vocalizing a slightly harsh chattering call, or quiet chip notes.


Neotropical migrant, wintering from the extreme southern U.S. and further south.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Northern Rough-winged Swallow sightings

Similar Species:

Potentially confused with the following swallow species:

Bank Swallow - Riparia riparia Bank Swallow - Riparia riparia Tree Swallow - Tachycineta bicolor Cliff Swallow - Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
Bank Swallow Bank Swallow Tree Swallow Cliff Swallow (young)

Conservation Status: Northern Rough-winged Swallows are probably more numerous and widespread now than they were pre-settlement.  They've learned to adapt well to a human presence, and will now use bridges and road cuts for nesting in addition to natural sites.  There are some indications that populations have declined slightly in recent decades, but they are still found across a very broad geographic area, and are common in parts of their range. The IUCN lists the Northern Rough-winged Swallow as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

May 10th, 2020 - Newton Hills State Park, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

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

Audio File Credits:

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

Additional Northern Rough-winged Swallow Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Northern Rough-winged Swallow 1 - Stelgidopteryx serripennisNorthern Rough-winged Swallow 2 - Stelgidopteryx serripennisNorthern Rough-winged Swallow 3 - Stelgidopteryx serripennisNorthern Rough-winged Swallow 4 - Stelgidopteryx serripennisNorthern Rough-winged Swallow 5 - Stelgidopteryx serripennisNorthern Rough-winged Swallow 6 - Stelgidopteryx serripennisNorthern Rough-winged Swallow 7 - Stelgidopteryx serripennisNorthern Rough-winged Swallow 8 - Stelgidopteryx serripennis