Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Stelgidopteryx serripennis

A plain brown bird, the Northern Rough-winged Swallow is fairly common across the United States in summer. The species derives its name from the outer wing feathers, which have small hooks or points on their leading edges.

Cool Facts

Photo taken from:
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by David Allen Sibley
  • The function of the rough wing edge of the Northern Rough-winged Swallow is not known.
  • The barbs on the primary feathers of the male Northern Rough-winged Swallow are distinctly hooked; those of the female are smaller and straighter. Running a finger from base to tip along the barbed wing edge yields a sensation similar to that of touching a rough file.
  • The Greek genus name of the Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Stelgidopteryx, means "scraper wing;" the Latin species name, serripennis, means "saw feather."
  • In one documented case, a Northern Rough-winged Swallow pair nested inside a Civil War cannon.


  • Size: 12-15 cm (5-6 in)
  • Wingspan: 27-30 cm (11-12 in)
  • Weight: 10-18 g (0.35-0.64 ounces)
  • Small, long-winged stocky songbird.
  • Small bill.
  • Wings long and pointed.
  • Uniformly dull brown head and upperparts.
  • Pale brown throat.
  • White belly and under tail.
  • Square tail.
  • Bill black.
  • Eyes dark brown.
  • Legs blackish.
Sex Differences
Sexes appear similar; in the hand, male can be identified from more pronounced hooks on the leading edge of the wing feathers.
Juvenile similar to adult, but with cinnamon wash on throat and indistinct cinnamon edges on brown feathers of upperparts, most noticeable on wings.
Range Map
Taxonomic Hierarchy


© 2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Hirundinidae
Genus: Stelgidopteryx
Species: Stelgidopteryx serripennis
Territorial male gives a series of short, relatively low-pitched, rising "brrt" or "jrrr" notes.

Identification and Information
See Anatomy of a Bird
  • Length Range: 14 cm (5.5 in)
  • Weight: 17 g (0.6 oz)
  • Size: 2. Small (5 - 9 in)
  • Color Primary: Brown
  • Underparts: White with gray white breast.
  • Upperparts: Brown
  • Back Pattern: Solid
  • Belly Pattern: Solid
  • Breast Pattern: Solid
  • Bill Shape: All-purpose
  • Eye Color: Brown or dark brown.
  • Head Pattern: Plain
  • Crown Color: Brown
  • Forehead Color: Brown
  • Nape Color: Brown
  • Throat Color: White with gray wash.
  • Cere color: No Data
  • Flight Pattern: Swift graceful flight with slow deep wing beats.
  • Wingspan Range: 28-30 cm (11-12 in)
  • Wing Shape: Tapered-Wings
  • Tail Shape: Squared Tail
  • Tail Pattern: Solid
  • Upper Tail: Brown
  • Under Tail: Brown
  • Leg Color: Black
  • Breeding Location: Grassland with scattered trees, Desert, Grasslands, Desert, semi, Streams, upland
  • Breeding Type: Monogamous, Solitary nester, Small colonies
  • Breeding Population: Increasing
  • Egg Color: White
  • Number of Eggs: 4 - 8
  • Incubation Days: 12
  • Egg Incubator: Female
  • Nest Material: No nest materials.
  • Migration: Migratory
  • Condition at Hatching: Helpless with sparse down.

Other Names

Similar Species

  • Hirondelle à ailes hérissées (French)
  • Golondrina ala de sierra, Golondrina alirraspos, Norteña (Spanish)
  • Bank Swallow is smaller and has a distinct dark brown breastband separating a clean white throat and white lower breast.
  • Juvenile Tree Swallow has brownish back and a dull chest, but it has a faint band across chest and a whitish throat.

Conservation Status

Generally adapts well to environments affected by human activity. No specific conservation concern.


Sources used to Construct this Page:

Breeds in a wide variety of open habitats, with openings in various vertical surfaces, including banks, gorges, and human structures.
  • DeJong, M. J. 1996. Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis). In The Birds of North America, No. 234 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Flying insects.
Catches insects in flight, often close to ground or water surface.

Adult Sexes Similar

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Additional Photos & Video


All photos © 2008 Rick Swartzentrover - Free for non-profit use.

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