This Swallow likes the hollows

-A A +A

The entire family of swallows are all so graceful in flight, as they perform almost all of their duties, totally on the wing.

A welcome factor along with their grace and beauty is they help rid your area of pesky, biting insects.

The Northern Rough-Winged Swallow is a swallow member that you may not be familiar with, even though it is a fairly common statewide summer resident. John James Audubon, the noted ornithologist, painted this bird in Henderson in the early 1800s. He depicted the bird at an underground cavity in a dirt bank.

Probably one of the reasons you may not have noticed these birds is that they are generally solitary and usually don't nest in colonies. However, sometimes if a favorable nest site is found, you might see as many as six pairs nesting in a little loose colony.

First of all, allow me to describe what to look for in a Northern Rough-Winged Swallow and the type of habitat where they might be found nesting.

This bird is 5.5 inches long bird, with a 14-inch wingspan, and its rough-wing name comes from tiny hooks on the outer primary feather, which gives it a rough feel and is only on the adult males. There is no known explanation for this and remains a total mystery.

The color of this bird is brown on the back, wings and square tail, with the throat and under parts being somewhat grayish.

I have found them nesting in abandoned, belted Kingfisher underground burrows, under and around bridges and culverts and once in a pipe that ran along underneath the floor of a docked pontoon boat. The pipe was a foot or so above the water level, and all of their nests were generally over or near water.

Other possible nest sites include sides of buildings, caves, quarries, drainpipes or gutters and they can dig their own underground burrows.

The nest itself at the end of a cavity is bulky and built on a foundation of twigs, bark, roots and weeds and is lined with fine grasses.

The female lays four to eight eggs, usually six to seven with a smooth shell with a slight gloss, and they are pure white. Incubation is by both sexes, but probably mostly by the female, for 16 days, with one brood being raised.

Around any of these nest sites you may notice the adults resting on utility wires from time to time. They are also powerful fliers with their flight being somewhat in a straight line, with few twists and turns and lots of gliding and sailing.

The Northern Rough-Winged Swallow breeds from New Hampshire, Northern Michigan, North Dakota and Central British Columbia south to Southern Brazil. In winter they are not found north of Northern Mexico. But, because of climate change, their breeding range is expanding north, and they are beginning to winter at higher latitudes.

They usually arrive in Kentucky from migration by mid-April and are heavily into courting by early May. There is a peak in clutch completion by the end of May, with the young fledging in July.

Most birds depart on their migration soon thereafter, but a few may linger until mid-October. All swallows migrate only in the daytime, like many other species of birds do.

So when glorious spring arrives, now that you know where and what to look for, get out in nature and try to find yet another delightful member of the swallow family in the Great Outdoors.

To read more columns about birds by Horace Brown, visit www.SentinelNews.com/recreation. Horace Brown is a civil/sanitary engineer, land surveyor and nature photographer and writer. To contact him or order a copy of Brown’s 2014 Eagles, Falcons, Hawks & Vultures Calendar, E-mail whbrownpelpls@aol.com, call 502-682-7711 or write 527 Main St., Shelbyville 40065.