Bank Swallow

Riparia riparia
Range Map

The Bank Swallow is a well-traveled bird with a world-wide presence. Only in Australia and Antarctica are these birds absent. Known by various names in many places, much of the rest of the world calls this bird the “Sand Martin”. Their name is well earned, because they only nest in burrows along sandy banks or bluffs.

North American populations have declined since 1970. The reasons are unclear, but road construction and erosion control measures that destroy suitable nesting habitat are possible culprits.

There is some debate about how many subspecies of Bank Swallow there are. Some authorities believe there are as many as eight, while others suggest three or four. Listed here are some of those under consideration:

  • R. r. riparia breeds throughout North America, Eurasia, Mediterranean region, and northwestern Africa, but spends winters in Central and South America and Africa.
  • R. r. diluta breeds from Siberia and Mongolia south to Iran, Afghanistan, India, and southeastern China.
  • R. r. shelleyi breeds in central Asia and Mongolia, northern Japan, the Kuril Islands, and possibly in northern India. They spend winters in southeast Asia.
  • R. r. ijimae breeds in Egypt’s Nile Valley, and spends winters in Sudan and Eritrea.
  • R. r. eilata has an unknown breeding range, but there are reports of them passing through Israel.
  • R. r. innominata breeds in Kazakhstan.

I’ve enjoyed meeting these birds on Antelope Island (Utah), but my favorite encounter took place in California, east of the Sierra-Nevada Mountains at Crowley Lake. I found a convention of swallows loafing at the edge of a lonely cove, with four species present.

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