Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
THE WHITE-BELLIED SWALLOW.
HIRUNDO BICOLOR, Vieill.
PLATE XLVI.--MALE AND FEMALE.
This Swallow often spends the winter months in the State of Louisiana,
resorting frequently to the neighbourhood of the marshes that border Lake
Pontchartrain and Bayou St. John, near the city of New Orleans. At the
beginning of spring, it spreads widely over the country, and may be observed
skimming over the streets of our cities, as well as along the meadows in their
Its flight is easy, continued, and capable of being greatly protracted. It
is seen sailing, circling, turning, and winding in all directions, during the
greater part of the day. Like all other Swallows, it feeds on the wing,
unceasingly pursuing insects of various kinds, and in seizing them producing a
snapping noise, which may be heard at some distance. So quarrelsome is this
Swallow, that it is almost continually fighting with its own species. Yet they
remain in flocks at all seasons, and many pairs are often seen to breed within a
short distance of each other. It also attacks the House Swallow, and frequently
takes possession of its nest.
It generally prefers the hollow of a tree for its nest, which is of a
globular form, composed of slender grasses, and abundantly lined with feathers
of various kinds. The eggs are from four to six, of a pure white colour,
strongly tined with bluish, occasioned by the transparency of the shell, and are
deposited about the end of May. It breeds twice during the season.
No sooner have the young of the second brood acquired their full power of
flight, than parents and offspring assemble in large flocks, and resort to the
roofs of houses, the tops of decayed trees, or the sandy beaches of our rivers,
from whence they take their departure for the south. They fly in a close body,
and thus continue their journey, until they reach the places adapted for their
winter residence, when they again resume by day the habits which they exhibit
during their summer sojourn in the Middle and Northern States, but collect at
night and resort to the sedges and tall plants of the marshes.
This species is found abundantly dispersed over the Rocky Mountains, and
along the Columbia river. I have traced it on our Atlantic coast from the Texas
to Labrador, and Dr. RICHARDSON states that it frequents the woody districts of
the Fur Countries up to the 68th parallel, but does not mention the periods of
its arrival or departure. In all parts of the country which are well wooded, it
was, until lately, in the constant habit of breeding in the hollows of trees;
now, however, this is not so much the case, as will be seen from the following
note of Dr. THOMAS M. BREWER Of Boston:--"The Hirundo bicolor arrives in New
England the last of April or the first of May, and is principally occupied,
preparatory to breeding, with obstinate contests with its own species, as well
as with the Blue-bird, the Wren, and the Barn Swallow. In the vicinity of
Boston, since the destruction of the Purple Martins already mentioned, they have
taken their places, building in the boxes, jars, &c. originally intended for
their relatives, so much so, that in this vicinity they are not now known to
breed at all in the hollow trees; a change of habit very unusual, if not wholly
unexampled. So much do they prefer their present mode of breeding, that I have
known them to breed in a rude candle-box, of which one side had been knocked
out, placed upon the top of the house. In the first part of August, they
collect in large flocks about ten days before their departure for warmer
climates. During that time they are to be seen in great quantities flying
around and over the houses in Boston in quest of insects."
My friend Dr. BACHMAN says, "On the afternoon of the 16th of October, 1833,
in company with Dr. WILSON and Mr. JOHN WOODHOUSE AUDUBON, I saw such an immense
quantity of this species of birds that the air was positively darkened. As far
as the eye could reach, there were Swallows crowded thickly together, and
winging their way southward; there must have been many millions!"
GREEN-BLUE or WHITE-BELLIED SWALLOW, Hirundo viridis,
Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. iii. p. 44.
HIRUNDO BICOLOR, Bonap. Syn., p. 65.
WHITE-BELLIED SWALLOW, Hirundo bicolor, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 605.
WHITE-BELLIED SWALLOW, Hirundo bicolor, Aud. Orn. Biog.,
vol. i. p. 491; vol. v. p. 417.
Wings a little longer than the tail, which is deeply emarginate. Upper
parts steel-blue, with green reflections, lower white; feet flesh coloured.
Female similar to the male.
Male, 5 1/2 inches long, 10 in extent of wings.