BANK SWALLOW – (Riparia riparia)
The Bank swallow (called ‘Sand Martin’ in Europe) is named this way based on its habitat, the vertical banks of rivers, ocean shores, or the steep slopes of human-made gravel or sand pits. The Latin name refers to a river bank. It is a small swallow, at 12 cm (4.7 in.) long. The upper parts are light brown and the under parts white, with a brown band across the breast. The bill is tiny but the mouth opens wide as in other swallows, as these birds eat insects on the fly. Both sexes are similar.
Their flying patterns are erratic flutters alternating with short glides, thus making it challenging to photograph or film them when flying. They constantly chatter when they fly. These are very social birds that nest in colonies. The male digs a burrow in a sandy bank and the nest is built in a chamber at the end of the burrow.
The bank swallow is breeding on PEI and is very common on the island. This bird’s wintering range is in the southern hemisphere.
Although the bank swallow is listed in the category ‘least concern’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, in Canada it is considered as ‘threatened’ by COSEWIC due to a more than 90% loss of its population in this country over the last few decades. The suspected reasons vary from loss of habitat, destruction of nests and pesticide use. One factor more specific to PEI is erosion of shore banks and cliffs from increasingly severe storms.