Barn swallows are beautiful birds, but it can be easy to confuse them with some other types of birds, especially to those in the same family. How can you learn to tell these birds apart? Let’s find out as we discuss some of the birds that look like barn swallows.
What You'll Learn Today
Birds That Look Like Barn Swallows
1. Eastern Bluebirds
Eastern bluebirds are migratory birds found throughout much of the eastern United States as well as parts of Mexico and Central America.
These pretty little songbirds share many characteristics with barn swallows. Both types of birds are blue on top and orange to brown on their undersides, and they are both roughly the same size as each other.
They are also both migratory birds, though they do not necessarily share the same migrational paths.
One thing that sets them apart is the darkness of their coloring. Barn swallows are a darker, richer blue color, while bluebirds are a lighter, more sky-blue shade.
What’s more, barn swallows have a more sleek, streamlined appearance. Bluebirds lack this sleekness, and they also lack the characteristic forked tail that swallows have.
Finally, barn swallows have a much larger range than bluebirds. They are found throughout much of the world, migrating between the northern and southern hemispheres depending on the season.
2. Cave Swallows
Belonging to the same family as barn swallows, cave swallows are found in a much smaller range. They are found only in extreme southern portions of the United States, parts of Mexico, and the Caribbean Islands.
Cave swallows look very similar to barn swallows while in flight, as they both have similar body and wing shapes. They both have noticeable orange-brown throats.
That said, cave swallows have more muted colors than barn swallows. They have whitish undersides, dark blue-gray wings, and a matching blue-gray mark above their eyes.
What’s more, their tail is distinct from that of the barn swallow’s: it is short and squared, lacking the long fork-like feathers more common to the swallow family. Cave swallows are also a couple of inches shorter than barn swallows.
3. Cliff Swallows
Cliff swallows look very much like cave swallows, and their range is much wider, overlapping many of the same areas that barn swallows inhabit. With this in mind, it is easy to mistake these birds for barn swallows.
Cliff swallows are found throughout much of North, Central, and South America, migrating between hemispheres depending on the season.
These birds have short, squarish tails just like cave swallows do, and they are generally about the same size as cave swallows. This means that they are smaller than barn swallows and easy to tell apart by their tail feathers.
That said, cliff swallows have blue heads and orange-brown throats, and the coloring is very similar to that of barn swallows. If you have ever seen a barn swallow up close, you would find it easy to mistake a cliff swallow for a barn swallow based on the coloring alone.
4. Violet-Green Swallows
Violet-green swallows are beautiful birds found primarily west of the Rocky Mountains in North America. They also migrate to Mexico and Central America during the winter.
These brightly-colored birds are just as their name describes them: they have iridescent greenish feathers on their backs which fade to more violet tones at their wings and tails.
Because of their coloring, it is easy to tell them apart from barn swallows if you get a good look at them. However, if you see them in flight, you will notice that they look quite similar: both barn swallows and violet-green swallows have the same distinctive wing shapes and rounded bodies.
Again, though, looking at their tails will help you tell them apart. Barn swallows have forked tails, while violet-green swallows have short, squarish tails.
5. Tree Swallows
Tree swallows are common throughout much of North and Central America. On first glance, you might assume these birds are actually a type of bluebird due to their coloring.
Tree swallows have the same wing and body shape as barn swallows, and their blue coloring is often very close to the same shade. However, tree swallows do have a few differences that make it possible to distinguish them from barn swallows.
Though the blue shading is very similar, tree swallows don’t have the orange-brown markings that barn swallows do. Instead, their undersides are a bright snowy white, which contrasts quite noticeably from the dark blue of their wings, tails, and backs.
Their tapered tails set them apart from many of their cousins on this list, but they do not have the long forked tail feathers that barn swallows have. Instead, their tails look similar to the fins of a fish’s tail.
Check out this video to learn more about these pretty birds:
6. Purple Martins
Purple martins are members of the swallow family of birds. They are found primarily in the eastern half of the United States, with migratory paths that take them into Central and South America for the winter.
They are similar in shape to barn swallows, and their tails have a somewhat forked appearance when they are at rest. When in flight, their long tails take on a more squarish appearance.
Purple martins, as the name suggests, are generally a dark purple in color. Females are more of a purple gray with lighter undersides.
This coloring makes it easy to distinguish them from barn swallows if you see them up close. If you see them from a distance and are not able to make out their coloring, you can generally tell them apart by the fact that purple martins have darker undersides, while barn swallows have lighter, brownish undersides.
Their tails, as noted, also appear different while the birds are in flight. Barn swallows have long forked tails, while purple martins have long squared tails.
7. Chimney Swifts
Chimney swifts are related to swallows, but not closely–they belong to different families. That said, these birds look similar to swallows and behave similarly in terms of their migratory habits.
Chimney swifts are found in the eastern United States and southern Canada. They migrate to northwestern parts of South America, near the equator, for winter.
Though they are a little smaller than barn swallows, they have a similar body and wing shape. Therefore, it is easy to confuse them especially when they are in flight.
However, chimney swifts do not have the bright colors that barn swallows have; instead, they are a dull brown all over.
What’s more, chimney swifts have very short tails that almost give them the appearance of having no tail at all. This is one easy way to tell them apart from barn swallows.
8. Vaux’s Swifts
The Vaux’s swift looks very similar to the chimney swift, but their ranges do not overlap. Vaux’s swifts are found along the west coast of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, and they migrate to Central America for the winter.
They are quite small compared to barn swallows, though when seen flying above, their wingspans appear quite wide and impressive.
They have a similar wingspan and body shape to that of the barn swallow; however, like the chimney swift, their dull, dark-brown coloring and short tail make them easy to tell apart if you get a decent look at them.
9. Rough-Winged Swallows
Northern rough winged swallows are found in North and Central America, while southern rough-winged swallows are native to Central and South America.
These birds are generally brown and white in color, and they are named for the rough, choppy appearance of their wings and feathers.
That said, they still have the typical broad, sleek wings common to the swallow family, and their bodies are similar in shape. Because of these features, they look similar to barn swallows, especially from a distance.
You can tell them apart by their short, squared tails and their colors, which are generally more dull than those of the barn swallow.
10. Bank Swallows
Bank swallows are also known as sand martins. Like barn swallows, they are found throughout much of the world during different seasons of the year; they live in the north during the summer and migrate further south during the winter.
They are a bit smaller than barn swallows, but they have the classic swallow body and wing shape. They also have slightly forked tails that, though not as long as the barn swallow’s, make it easy to confuse the two birds.
That said, bank swallows are grayish-brown on top and white on their undersides. This coloration makes it a little easier to distinguish them from barn swallows.
As you can see, there are a number of birds that look similar to barn swallows, including bluebirds, cliff swallows, cave swallows, tree swallows, and violet-green swallows. Many of these belong to the same family of birds as the barn swallow.