Swallows can eat bird seed and occasionally do when other food sources are scarce. However, stopping to eat food leaves them vulnerable to predators. Because of this, swallows prefer to catch and eat insects while they fly.
What You'll Learn
Swallows are absolutely gorgeous birds that are common across North America. Most people who enjoy bird watching would love to have swallows visit their yard.
However, unlike some other birds, attracting swallows is more complicated than putting out bird seeds. A birder looking to attract swallows will need to make other changes to get their attention. But, with a bit of know-how, you will be able to bring swallows to your yard in no time.
What Do Swallows Eat?
All swallows enjoy eating insects and prefer not to be stationary while eating. This is because staying stationary while eating leaves them at risk of being attacked by predators such as hawks, falcons, and owls. Swallows even drink on the wing to avoid staying in one spot!
While all swallows have these traits in common, there is some variation between different types of swallows. Three types of swallows common throughout North America are barn, cliff and tree swallows.
Let’s briefly look at the differences between their diets:
Barn swallows eat larger insects, with flies being their preferred food source. They will also eat moths, grasshoppers, and spiders. Unlike other swallows, they prefer to eat a single large insect rather than a swarm of smaller insects. They also will eat pebbles and other grit, which add much-needed calcium to their diet and aids digestion. Barn swallows will rarely eat berries if no other food source is available.
Unlike barn swallows, cliff swallows enjoy large swarms of smaller insects. This is partly because they often forage for food in groups of more than a thousand birds.
Examples of the insects they enjoy are lacewings and mayflies. Cliff swallows are less active during cold or rainy weather since fewer food sources are available.
However, in those bad weather conditions, cliff swallows will sometimes feed over rivers, lakes, or ponds. This sets them apart from other swallows, who tend to only feed over dry land.
They are more likely to eat berries than barn swallows, but still only do so when other food sources are scarce.
Out of the swallows we have looked at, tree swallows probably have the most diverse diet. They consume a wide variety of insects. Like other swallows, their favorite foods are flying insects.
However, they will also eat mollusks, spiders, and sand fleas. Interestingly, sand fleas are crustaceans, which is something no other swallow eats. Some studies have shown that crustaceans are an important part of the tree swallow’s diet, particularly during the winter months.
Interestingly, the tree swallow’s diet can be up to 20% vegetation in the winter. Unlike their counterparts, they will often eat berries to supplement their diet.
Attracting Swallows to Your Home
While this information is interesting, the question of how to attract swallows to your home still remains. Despite swallows having a variety of dietary patterns, there are a few ways you can maximize your chances of seeing them in your yard.
First and foremost, avoid using pesticides or insecticides if you want to attract swallows to where you live. This may seem obvious to some, but it is easy to overlook as you are doing your regular lawn care.
Pesticides can be quite harmful to birds, causing them to get sick and (in extreme situations) even die. However, insecticides will also kill the main food source (insects) of swallows. If you have already used pesticides and insecticides and still want to attract swallows to your yard, don’t worry. By checking for the half-life of your particular pesticide or insecticide, you can get an idea of how long it will take to wear off.
The next thing you can do to attract swallows to your yard is to get plants that attract the type of insects that swallows eat. Perennials are a great choice for this. Not only are they beautiful, but they attract a variety of insects that are frequently found in the diet of all swallows.
Some examples of perennials that will attract insects are marigolds, echinacea, mountain mint, and yarrow. Other plants to consider are herbs such as dill, fennel, and coriander. Not only will these plants attract food sources for swallows, but they primarily feed beneficial insects in your garden.
Along with providing plants that will attract food for swallows, you can also improve the environment for them in other ways. For example, open, grassy fields are ideal for swallows. Trying to clear an area for swallows to hunt for insects will improve the chances of them coming to your yard.
Leaving your grass a bit long will attract more insects to it. This is perfect for swallows, who dive low to the ground and catch flying insects.
Finally, if you plan to provide artificial food sources, it is important to choose ones that will be enticing to swallows. For example, you can purchase mixes that contain insects and berries. These mixes are more likely to attract swallows than traditional bird seed.
Feeders with these mixes should be left a minimum of six feet off the ground. Leaving out mealworms on a platform tray can also attract swallows, although it may take longer for them to adjust to this food source. You can also leave out ground up oysters and eggshells to supplement the diet of barn swallows.
As you can see, attracting swallows requires more than simply leaving out bird seed. To attract them to your yard, you must provide them with a suitable environment.
Now that you are equipped with a knowledge of their diet and preferred environment, you can make the appropriate changes to help create a home for swallows. With a bit of effort, you will see these beautiful birds in your backyard in no time!
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I am Bryan Powell and I own BirdHour.com. I love bird watching; in fact, I have a parakeet of my own. I enjoy spending time outdoors and observing the natural world around me. This website is a means of sharing my passion for birds with others who may be interested in this activity.