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The Bank Swallow is a small slender songbird that can be recognized by its small head, thin wings and long, slender, notched tail. It has pale brown upper-parts and rump, white under-parts and throat, and a well-defined dark band across its chest. Males and females have similar plumage.   

Weight: 10.6 to 18.8 g (0.4 to 0.7 oz). Length: 11.9 to 14.0 cm (4.7 to 5.5 in).

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The Bank Swallow is a widespread species of swallow that is found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. It is found breeding in colonies in the northern two-thirds of the United States and north to the treeline of Canada. It winters mainly in South America.

Range map information


Male Bank Swallows dig burrows leading to underground nest chambers using their small beak, feet and wings. The male digs the burrow before he has a mate and then the female chooses a mate and nest by hovering in front of the burrow. Females build the nest by making a mat of straw, grasses, leaves and roots torn from the exposed bank. They breed near open habitats along rivers, streams, lakes and gravel pits where they search for flying insects.

Bank Swallows nest on artificial and natural sites with vertical sand-silt banks such as riverbanks, lake and ocean bluffs, sand/gravel mounds, aggregate quarries and road cuts. A burrow is dug into the side of these sites that leads to a nest chamber. Nest burrows are 63 cm deep on average, and are generally dug straight into the side of the bank (parallel to the ground). They nest in colonies ranging from 10 nests to nearly 2,000 nests.

Bank Swallows are very social birds and are often found with other birds when away from the nest.

Like many other species of birds that feed on flying insects, the Bank Swallow has seen a decline of about 95% of its Canadian population since the 1970s. The cause of the severe declines is not fully understood, but it is likely the impact of multiple threats or cumulative effects affecting Bank Swallows on their breeding grounds, wintering grounds, and during migration.

A 14% increase was recently estimated over a ten year period (2009-2019), largely driven by a detected increase in Saskatchewan. 

Bank Swallow nests located at sand/gravel mounds or aggregate quarries can be destroyed if material extraction at these sites occurs during the nesting season. Other potential threats in the Northwest Territories include a large-scale decline or some other change in insect populations, direct and indirect mortality due to weather events (cold snaps), and slumping of river banks where Bank Swallows nest.  Habitat loss and degradation from human activities is also a potential threat.

COSEWIC assessed Bank Swallow as Threatened in 2013 because of severe long-term population decline. Bank Swallow was listed as Threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2017. The SARA provides protection for individual Bank Swallows and their residences. Bank Swallows and their nests are also protected under the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act.

A national recovery strategy for Bank Swallow is available on the federal Species at Risk Public Registry and includes critical habitat identification.

Dehcho Gwich'in Inuvialuit North Slave / Tłı̨chǫ Sahtú South Slave