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Violet-green Swallow

Tachycineta thalassina

Length: 5 inches Wingspan: 11.5 inches Seasonality: Summer
ID Keys: Dark above green in good light, white below, white rump patches narrowly separated above tail, white circling behind eye.

Violet-green Swallow - Tachycineta thalassinaThe Violet-green Swallow is a bird of Western North America, and can be found in summer from Mexico all the way up through Alaska.  They are similar in appearance and behavior to the Tree Swallow, and sometimes associated very closely with them. In South Dakota, they are found in the far western part of the state, particularly in and around the Black Hills. There, they often nest in and around areas of dead standing timber, including areas that have been impacted by fire, as they use woodpecker cavities in those trees for nesting sites.


Violet-green Swallows will use a wide variety of semi-open habitats during the summer nesting season, including canyon walls, pine forests, riparian areas, and tree groves in more open prairie.  They prefer forested areas with at least some standing dead timber, as they use cavities in trees for nesting. During migration, they are often found near water (coastlines, rivers, lakes). 


Violet-green Swallows feed almost exclusively on flying insects.


Gregarious, Violet-green Swallows often form mixed flocks with other swallows as well as White-throated Swifts.  They feed by catching insects in flight, sometimes skimming closely above a water body or the ground in search of prey, or sometimes foraging very high in the sky. Only rarely will they feed on the ground, and typically only when cold weather catches them by surprise and flying insects are scarce.


June and July. Violet-green Swallows are cavity nesters, traditionally building their nests in existing tree cavities such as old woodpecker burrows, or cavities in rocky cliffs and crevices. They often nest in small colonies, but typically much smaller than some other swallow species, with just a few dozen nesting pairs at most. A cup is built in the nesting cavity consisting of grasses, weed stems, rootlets, and/or feathers. The female lays between 4 and 6 eggs, and she alone incubates them. Incubation lasts about 12 to 14 days, with the young fledging from the nest about three weeks after hatching.


The most commonly heard vocalizations of a Violet-green Swallow area a thin series of "chee-chee" notes or a chee-dip call.


Summers throughout the western part of North America, up through southern Alaska.  A few winter along the California coast, but most winter in Mexico and Central America. In South Dakota, Violet-green Swallows are common summer residents of the far western part of the state, but migrate southward for the winter.

Interactive eBird map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Violet-green Swallow sightings

Similar Species:

The plumage of a Violet-green Swallow is unique in color but they could potentially be confused with the following species if not seen well:

Tree Swallow - Tachycineta bicolor  Tree Swallow - Tachycineta bicolor  Barn Swallow 7 - Hirundo rustica  Cliff Swallow - Petrochelidon pyrrhonota 
Tree Swallow  Tree Swallow  Barn Swallow Cliff Swallow


Will readily use man-made nest boxes.

Conservation Status:

Numbers are generally stable, although they are in decline in scattered locales due to competition with House Sparrows and European Starlings, and are increasing in other areas due to large numbers of nest boxes.  Overall populations are strong, and the are common to abundant in many areas. The IUCN considers the Violet-green Swallow to be a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

June 5th, 2009 - Klamath Falls, California - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips below for more, higher-resolution photos of the Violet-green Swallow.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Violet-green Swallow - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common summer resident in the far western part of the state.

Additional Violet-green Swallow Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Violet-green Swallow 1 - Tachycineta thalassinaViolet-green Swallow 2 - Tachycineta thalassinaViolet-green Swallow 3 - Tachycineta thalassinaViolet-green Swallow 4 - Tachycineta thalassinaViolet-green Swallow 5 - Tachycineta thalassinaViolet-green Swallow 6 - Tachycineta thalassinaViolet-green Swallow 7 - Tachycineta thalassina