Northern Rough-Winged Swallow

Stelgidopteryx serripennis
Range Map

Northern Rough-Winged Swallows breed near streams, lakes and river banks across North America. “Rough-Winged” refers to the serrated feathers on the leading edge of the wings of these birds. This feature is only apparent with the bird in hand.

These birds are sometimes confused with Bank Swallows. Not only do they look similar, their preferred nesting sites are also burrows and are sometimes near Bank Swallow colonies. Both species bear a darker color high in their breast, but the Northern Rough-Winged Swallow’s band is relatively faint, when compared to its cousins.

Many North American swallow species migrate into South America in winter, but the Northern Rough-Winged Swallow seems to spend these months at higher latitudes between the states in the southern USA and Panama. My meetings with this species have all come from breeding birds in California and southern Oregon.

Today, science recognises six subspecies of Northern Rough-Winged Swallow:

  • S. s. serripennis breeds in southeastern Alaska, and from southern Canada coast to coast, and south into the USA to central California, northern Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Florida. They spend winters mostly in Florida, southwestern Mexico, and south to Panama.
  • S. s. psammochrous breeds in southern California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, northeastern Mexico south to Oaxaca and Tamaulipas. They spend winters from central Mexico to Panama.
  • S. s. fulvipennis lives in the south-central Mexican lowlands and middle elevations, and south to Costa Rica.
  • S. s. burleighi lives on the southern Yucatán Peninsula, in Belize and Guatemala.
  • S. s. ridgwayi lives on the northern Yucatán Peninsula.
  • S. s. stuarti lives in southern Mexico and northern Central America.

Most of the Northern Rough-Winged Swallows I’ve met were in California. When I met them in Oregon, it was in Klamath Falls, only 15 miles from the California border.

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