This short film is dedicated a dear friend who recently lost a beloved family member. Along with the tender melody by Jules Massenet, especially the last bits of footage (before the credits) made me think of angels and of hope.

  *   *   *

Over the course of the summer while filming the Piping Plover Family at Wingaersheek Beach, Tree Swallows began flocking in ever increasing numbers. They became part of the Piping Plover story not only because a Tree Swallow will occasionally dive bomb a Piping Plover, for whatever reason I am not entirely sure, but also because they are beautiful to observe, and occasionally, seemingly playful, too.

Songbirds that they are, Tree Swallows make a cheery chirping chatter. They have long narrow forked tails, all the better for gliding and for their signature aerial acrobatics. The male’s upper parts are a brilliant iridescent blue-green, the female’s somewhat duller, and both female and male have white underparts. The migrating juveniles are almost entirely brown with either white or pale grayish underparts.tree-swallows-gloucester-massachusetts-11-copyright-kim-smith

Tree Swallows breed in the wetlands and fields of Cape Ann. Their name comes from the species habit of nesting in tree cavities. Tree Swallows have benefited tremendously from efforts to help save the Eastern Bluebird because they also nest in the nest boxes built specifically for the Bluebirds.

Acrobatic aerialists, they twist and turn mid-flight to capture a wide variety of insects including butterflies, dragonflies, greenheads, bees, beetles, and wasps.tree-swallows-gloucester-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smith

Tree Swallows eating insects on the beach and from the crevasses in the driftwood.

Utilizing both fresh and saltwater to bathe, Tree Swallows have a unique habit of quickly dipping and then shaking off the excess water while flying straight upwards.

Tree Swallows begin migrating southward in July and August. The flocks that we see gathering on Cape Ann migrate along the Atlantic Flyway. They overwinter in the southern states of the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Unlike migrating species of butterflies, several generations of Tree Swallows migrate together, the older birds showing the younger birds the way.

Music composed by Jules Massenet: “Méditation” from Thaïs


  1. Last August, I had birds (which I thought were sparrows going swarming mad) come in swarms to roost in a tree in my small downtown backyard every evening about 7PM. They’d eventually quiet down and spend the night. Early in the AM, they’d wake up, make a noisy racket and fly away. I thought they were sparrows taking up permanent residence in that tree, for a reason I couldn’t quite figure out, which I didn’t want because it was just beside my back porch and they were leaving feathers and bird poop all over my flowers and porch. I have respiratory illness too and I was worried their airborne “leavings” would irritate my lungs or worse. So I harassed them with the hose, put up one of those fake owls on a high post, and hung Mylar strips from the tree branches(which I read repelled birds). Everything did slowly work to drive them away but then they moved to my next door neighbors’ tree. Now, seeing your film, I think they might have been tree swallows roosting on their migration and, of course, I feel awful that I harassed them. If they return this year, and I decide to let them be, how long do you think they’d stay before continuing their migration? By the way: I LOVE your work and always appreciate your sharing your knowledge (and photos) of birds, butterflies, plants and the natural world around us. Thanks for all you do to enhance our lives every single day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Peggy,

      It sounds to me more like House Sparrows or Starlings, both are not native to the U.S and both can create the kind of nuisances you have described. Where I have observed the Tree Swallows flocking together was in more remote places, such as the dunes around Wingaersheek Beach and Coffins Beach, as well as at Cranes Beach. The guards at Wingaersheek mentioned that the Tree Swallows were later than usual this year. They knew this because the Tree Swallows eat tons of Greenheads and the birds came after Greenhead season. The flocking seems to gradually build over the course of a few weeks, which again doesn’t sound like what you have described. I hope this answers your question. Also, if you think of it and it happens again, send us a photo and we’ll id the birds.

      Thank you for your very kind words, so, very much appreciated.


  2. Beautiful tribute! Very nice and I bet your friends are smiling down as a result! Swallows know the hiding places and don’t get close to their nest either very defensive in the protection of their young!! Strength in number indeed! 🙂 Dave & Kim 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a gorgeous tribute to your friend’s family member! I always enjoying learning form you vast knowledge of nature! Thank you for sharing!


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