About Bank Swallows

The Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia) has been recorded in the lowlands of California since ornithologists began to explore these areas in the mid-nineteenth century (Grinnell and Miller 1944). Newberry (1857) considered the species to be common throughout California during his era. Today, Bank Swallows are locally common only in certain restricted portions of their historic range where sandy, vertical bluffs or riverbanks are available for these colonial birds to construct their nest burrows. The Bank Swallow nests in earthen banks and bluffs, as well as sand and gravel pits.

A colony nesting under riparian vegetation on the Sacramento River

Bank swallows utilize vertical eroding banks

A recently eroded bank supporting a colony of swallows

Bank Swallows near nest entrances

Photo by: Jan Dawnson

Nest entrances within a colony

Photo by: Ryan Martin

A hungry chick

Photo by: Michael Rogner

Nest with a single egg

Bank Swallow Nest

Sharon Beals, Bank Swallow Nest, Riparia riparia, 2007, Pigment ink on Etching paper, Nest in the collection of the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco

Nestmates awaiting foraging parents

Photo by: Jose Sousa

Bank Swallows are aerial insectivore

Photo by: Ryan Martin

A colony on a vertical bank face

burrow entrances are aggregated in suitable areas within the bank

A feather mite (Scutulanyssus sp.) from a Bank Swallow

Photo by: Heather Proctor. Bank Swallows prefer freshly eroded banks as older burrows may contain heavy parasite loads

2012 Bank Swallow Population Survey

Since 1986 the CDFW (in partnership with the USFWS since 1999) has conducted annual surveys along the Sacramento River between Red Bluff and Colusa

Chicks in a burrow

Photo by: Ryan Martin

Riprap displacing a large colony

Agency revetment placed on an eroding bank on the middle Sacramento River under Executive Order S-01-06. Photo by Joe Silveira (USFWS), 2007

The Sacramento River

The natural river processes of erosion and deposition maintain Bank Swallow habitat. Photo by: Stacy Cepello

Bank Swallows

a painting from Naturgeschichte der Vogel Mitteleuropas 1905

The Bank Swallow is primarily a riparian species throughout its North American and Eurasian breeding range. Once locally abundant in suitable habitats, numbers have declined statewide in recent years. It is now absent as a breeding bird in southern California. A Department of Fish and Wildlife study of the statewide population of Bank Swallows in 1987 found that the current population center for the species is along the Sacramento and Feather Rivers in the Sacramento Valley. Other concentration areas include the Klamath Basin and Modoc County areas in northeastern California. Most historical records of Bank Swallow nesting colonies were from central and southern California, where populations no longer exist. During 1987, only four colonies were found south of San Francisco Bay. The Sacramento River and Feather River populations comprise about 64 percent of the colonies and 70-90% of the California population.

bank swallow flying near nest entrance

Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia) near a nest entrance

Bank Swallow in hand

Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia)

eroding bank - habitat

A colony nesting on an eroding, vertical bank on the Sacramento River