Barn Swallow In Flight Feeding A Fledgling

These photos were taken two years ago (8/19/15) at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. I’ve never posted them before because they’re not quite as sharp as I like but I ran into them again last night and decided to cut them some slack because I’m such a fan of interesting behaviors, technically perfect images or not.


1/4000, f/7.1, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

There’s no other way to put it, this fledgling was nothing short of a glutton – just like they need to be at this stage of their lives. It waited on this perch for food deliveries from its parents and the adults delivered – repeatedly. The youngster usually began its begging routine long before I ever saw an adult coming in and that was my signal to begin firing off a burst. I almost think of the young swallow as my photographic assistant – my second pair of eyes. Thanks little guy.

I like this photo mostly because of the unusual wing position of the hovering adult and the glimpse we get of the insect in the youngsters mouth.



1/5000, f/7.1, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

The adults really stuff the food deeply down the gullet of their offspring. I’m not fond of the double catch light in the fledgling’s eye but it’s natural so I decided I wouldn’t tinker with it even though one of them would have been easy to remove. It appears that the adult has its nictitating membrane closed (thus the dispersed catch light) just as one would expect during a process like this that could potentially injure the eye. You never know what an awkward and hungry youngster might do when it’s flailing for a meal.

Barn Swallows often raise a second brood each season so even at this late date nesting season continues for many of them. Who knows, I may have another chance to photograph this behavior before the snow flies…





30 comments to Barn Swallow In Flight Feeding A Fledgling

  • Stephen Clayson


    Just amazing. They are so fast I don’t know how anyone could get a tack sharp image!


  • Laura Culley

    YIKES! Just realized I hadn’t finished this. Another day that got away from me right at dawn.
    You wrote, “I’m such a fan of interesting behaviors, technically perfect images or not.”
    Yeah, me too! I’d much rather see the behavior than a perfect image. The technical difficulty of what these swallows perform just feeding their kids time after time is just astounding. Their overall beauty and grace in flight is so far beyond beautiful as to be ridiculous that we don’t really have the words in our language to describe it–and why is that? I can watch them for HOURS, never tiring of their outrageous amazingness as they catch their flying insect prey. Again, how do they DO that? I know I’d starve to death.
    Going back to the behaviors v. technically perfect images, I’ve got one photo I absolutely treasure of Mariah hunting on a frosty day in Denver–well I’ve got dozens, but this one illustrates my point perfectly. She was flying hard and low, about 25 feet high and closing the gap to a skedaddling squirrel when a huge downdraft literally slammed her to the ground and shoved her along the concrete for about 30 feet before she could stop. A photographer friend was with us and I had to remind her that she had her camera with her. We were all dumbfounded at the sight with our jaws on the ground, but she hurriedly captured the shot of Mariah on the ground, legs spread with her talons trying to grab onto the concrete. The shot is out of focus and she didn’t have the motor drive operational, but the look on Mariah’s face is clearly saying, “What the hell was THAT? Was that absolutely necessary and WTH Mother Nature!!!” That photo is simply priceless! And oh yeah, birds can’t do facial expressions, except when they do.

    • Laura, I always enjoy hearing about your experiences with your birds and this one is near the top of my list.

      And like EC, you often have a way with words. I loved the way you said this: “And oh yeah, birds can’t do facial expressions, except when they do.”

  • Jean Haley

    Wonderful shots Ron. I’m a bit jealous. I am yet to get a nice picture of Swallows. They are so darn fast lol.

  • I always love watching barn swallows feeding their young. The camera really helps. They come in so fast I sometimes miss them when just watching, but like you said, if you start shooting when the fledgling starts chirping you just might capture some really interesting shots. Great stuff! I agree with you, I like the wing position in the first image. Such graceful curves from wing tips to tail. I’m glad you shared these.

  • Alice Beckcom

    Interesting how the fledgling changes its head position in the second photo to make sure that the adult can ‘stuff’ that insect as far as it will go into the mouth.

    Great photos and interesting behavior. Thanks Ron

  • Your series so often remind me that I would have been a woeful parent.
    Loved this bottomless pit series – thank you.

  • Patty Chadwick

    These images bring back some good memories…and gratitude that my sisters’ and my fly catching duties are way, way, way behind us…

  • A favorite of mine. I love their aerial acrobatics!

  • Elmer Deloso

    Awesome! Thank you for sharing.

  • Susan Stone

    We have a nesting pair of Barn Swallows at Hueco Tanks, who have their nest on the wall just above the door to the headquarters building. They always do two nestings, and this year we thought they might be doing a third, but apparently that fizzled. We encountered what had to be a fledgling sitting on a sign post in the parking lot – it had to be a fledgling because it was so sticky. Usually when we exit our vehicle, a Swallow will fly, but not this one. We have seen the adults flying in with food to the nest, but not been able to observe the feeding. Hopefully we’ll see that one day. In the meantime, thank you for showing us what we haven’t seen in person.

  • Marty K

    What fun shots! Those poor parents — working so hard and then having to deal with the kids’ bug breath!

  • Dick Harlow

    It’s tough getting that beetle down and he needs all the help he can get from Mom!
    Great shot Ron, thanks for sharing.

  • Jorge H. Oliveira

    Those little devils sure are fast. Great shots.
    I did get one in flight once but I guess it was pure luck.
    We name it “Andorinha” and there are five species here.

  • Judy Gusick

    Great captures, Ron. 🙂 Caught the actions of the wings and the “stuffing” process beautifully. It almost looks like the baby has it’s nictitating membrane close also.

  • Joanne OBrien

    Awesome photos! I’m always trying to photograph swallows. Most come out blurry and all of them are at quite a distance. So I totally appreciate these. I’m assuming these too are taken from your truck. It’s amazing how much of the world you can see from your vehicle! Thanks.