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.

Interesting Information

  • 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.


Adult Description

  • 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.


Photo taken from: The Sibley Field Guide by David Allen Sibley

© 2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Breeds in a wide variety of open habitats, with openings in various vertical surfaces, including banks, gorges, and human structures.


Catches insects in flight, often close to ground or water surface.


Flying insects.



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Hirundinidae
Genus: Stelgidopteryx
Species: Stelgidopteryx serripennis

Similar Species

  • 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.

Bird Sound

Territorial male gives a series of short, relatively low-pitched, rising "brrt" or "jrrr" notes.

Eggs look like this

Photo taken from: ARCTOS Collaborative Collection Management Solution