Species in Focus: Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Northern Rough-winged Swallows are of the genus Stelgidopteryx which includes one other swallow species, the Southern Rough-winged Swallow.

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During the summer months, Northern Rough-winged Swallows (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) are found across the lower 48 and southern parts of Canada. In the winter they retreat to their wintering grounds in parts of Central and South America.

Northern Rough-winged Swallows are considered to be the most plain looking of all the swallow species in North America. They don’t sport the attractive iridescent feathers of their Barn Swallow and Tree Swallow cousins, nor do they have the striking chest band associated with Bank Swallows.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.

Described as “brown” in many field guides, narrowly described, the color is much like taupe — a gray-brown — especially in the sunlight. In flight, faint light patches appear on the tops of the wing as shown below.


Northern Rough-winged Swallow. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.

Their body shape is quintessentially swallow-like with few exceptions. Their wings appear to be oversized when perched and have distinct notches at the wing tips. The feather edges look serrated giving them their “rough” appearance.

Their scientific name points to their appearance with their named genus meaning, “scraper wing” and their species name meaning, “saw feather”.


Northern Rough-winged Swallow. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.

Northern Rough-winged Swallows are solitary by nature, but can be found among Bank Swallows as they tend to require similar habitats. This can lead to confusion between the two, and even more so when combined with other similar species, such as female Tree Swallows and Purple Martins.

During nesting season, Northern Rough-winged Swallows will lay one clutch of 6-7 white long-oval eggs. Both parents will take turns brooding and babies will hatch in 16 days.

This bird can be found during early spring in Maryland, cruising just above the surface of ponds, lakes, and other bodies of water. Their call is a “harsh bzzzt” sound.

Have a listen:

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Learn More About Wild Birds

Why I Dumped My Bird Bath This Week and Why You Should Too

Monday Blues: Tree Swallows

Wordless Wednesday: Barn Swallow

Sexual Dimorphism in Birds

Books cited in this post and available for purchase via Amazon:

Book of North American Birds

Eastern Birds’ Nests