Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia)

A small brown and white bird perched on a strand of barbed wire.

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The bank swallow nests in a burrow excavated in a sharply-sloped sandy embankment. These fascinating swallows may be found nesting in the cliffs that line the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area in the vicinity of Hidden Falls Regional Park and other locations within the Mississippi Gorge Regional Park. These cliffs are formed from poorly-cemented St. Peter sandstone which is soft enough that these birds can excavate nest burrows.

Bank swallows are obligate colony nesters, meaning they always nest in colonies. Nesting in colonies may provide additional protection from predators as there are many eyes watching for danger and the birds can mob predators that get to close to the nest. Colonial nesting also may permit birds to find scarce resources by watching each other.

But there also are disadvantages to colonial nesting. Large masses of birds wheeling over the river may also attract the attention of predators large enough that mobbing won't drive them away. Colonial nesting also may increase the prevalence of disease and parasites within the tightly packed nest sites. There are also relatively few good nesting sites close to good feeding areas.

Fascinating Facts

  • Swallows have small bills and large mouths that are well adapted to catching flying insects while the bird is on the wing.

  • The swallows' long, pointed wings and squared off tails provide great maneuverability as they wheel and dart after elusive flying insects.


  • Key ID Features: Sparrow-sized. Brown above and whitish below with a brown breast band.
  • Present in Park: April through October, with most leaving by the end of August.
  • Habitat: Rivers and streams with suitable nesting sand banks, although some colonies nest in human-made excavations.
  • Voice: A buzzy, chittering call.

Last updated: April 29, 2022

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

111 E. Kellogg Blvd., Suite 105
Saint Paul, MN 55101


This is the general phone line at the Mississippi River Visitor Center.

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