Feeding ecology and diet

Swallows feed almost exclusively on insects that they catch in flight. The tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) is the only species that eats a substantial amount of plant food, including berries and other small fruits. Specific information is lacking on the diet of many swallow species, and the size of insects consumed varies greatly. The largest species are able to catch and eat dragonflies and butterflies, but the majority of swallows consume medium-sized insects such as flies, beetles, and ants. They tend to avoid stinging insects such as bees and wasps. Swallows also will sometimes eat spiders. Their diet typically changes during the year depending on which insect species are available.

Swallows usually feed in areas where insects are plentiful and often catch their prey when flying in open places. Consequently, swallows are often seen flying above areas of open habitat, such as over water or near a forest edge or above the canopy. During the breeding season, they typically feed rather close to the nesting site. During inclement weather, however, they may need to fly more than a kilometer to find suitable food. Swallows may feed in large groups or flocks, or they may hunt individually.

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