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Wagner, S., S. Stegenga, and B. Hilton Jr. 2002. First breeding records for Tree Swallows in South Carolina. Chat 66(4):145-148.

(Note: The draft below was submitted to The Chat; the article that actually appeared in print may have been edited.)

At the southeastern limits of their breeding range Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) nest sporadically in northeastern Louisiana, northeastern Mississippi, northern Alabama, northern Georgia and western North Carolina (American Ornithologists' Union 1998). The first reports of Tree Swallow nests in Georgia were in 1982-1984 at Lake Chatuge in Towns County (Haney et al. 1986). The swallow has nested in Towns, Murray and Floyd counties in north Georgia and Clayton, Greene, Monroe and McDuffie counties in the Georgia piedmont. Nesting has been continuous in the above counties except for McDuffie and Monroe (Beaton pers. comm.). The first North Carolina nesting record was from Ashe County in 1979 (LeGrand and Potter 1980). Since then, nesting has occurred in other counties in the mountains of western North Carolina, including Buncombe, Transylvania, Henderson, Macon and Alleghany (Lee 1993). There are also two nesting records from the piedmont of North Carolina, one from Jordan Lake in Chatham County in 1988, and the other from Vance County in 1990 (Lee 1993). In the North Carolina coastal plain, nesting has been reported in Currituck, Northampton and Brunswick counties (Lee 1993, Cooper and Markham 1994).

Throughout South Carolina, Tree Swallows are common spring and fall migrants, while on the coastal plain they are fairly common winter residents (Post and Gauthreaux 1989). As of 2000, there were no confirmed breeding records for South Carolina. This note reviews three earlier reports of possible nesting in South Carolina, and provides documentation for three nests found in 2001, one at Table Rock State Park in Pickens County and two in Oconee County. Another nesting record from Table Rock State Park in 2002 is also described.

Observations made during 1996-1998 suggest that Tree Swallows bred in South Carolina before 2001. In those years, Tree Swallows may have nested on Lake Russell in Abbeville County. During May of each year, Don Cox (pers. comm.) observed an adult male and an adult female visiting cavities in dead snags that stood in a cove of the lake. Unfortunately, Cox made no further observations in 1996 and 1997. On 19 May 1998, Irvin Pitts (pers. comm.) saw a pair of Tree Swallows visiting a cavity about 2 m above the water, in a slender, dead tree stub. The female entered the cavity several times from 09:25 to 14:45. Although the bird's behavior indicated nesting activity, Pitts was unable to confirm breeding.

On 13 May 2000, Wagner observed similar cavity attendance behavior near the Tugaloo River in Oconee County. During a 15 min. observation period, he watched a pair of adult Tree Swallows repeatedly visit a cavity in a dead tree in a beaver pond. The tree was about 4 m tall and the cavity was about 3 m above the water. The female entered the cavity and remained inside for about 5 minutes while the male perched on a nearby branch. Wagner was unable to confirm nesting.

At Table Rock State Park, Tree Swallows are seen during spring migration, from early April to mid-May. A single "late" adult was sighted at the park on 10 June 2000. On 13 April 2001, Stegenga watched a male Tree Swallow inspecting a bluebird box near the entrance to the park office. The box entrance hole was 2 m above the ground. The surrounding habitat was open lawn and included several other nest boxes.

On 18 April 2001, two or three swallows landed on the nest box closest to the building. On 22 April, Stegenga saw nest building at this box. By 2 May, nest building was completed although no eggs were present. Long pieces of grasses made up the bulk of the nest and several large waterfowl feathers were included. During the nest-building period and into May, adult swallows occasionally inspected two other boxes near the parking lot and appeared to have added some nest material to one of them. A Brown-headed Nuthatch (Sitta pusilla) attempted to nest in one of the boxes but abandoned the nest after laying four eggs.

On 4 May, three eggs were present in the Tree Swallow nest. By 12 May, six eggs had been laid. In the next few days some of the eggs had sunk into the nest cup, suggesting a predator may have disturbed the nest. A nearby bluebird nest box was preyed upon during this period. A second Tree Swallow clutch may have been started on top of the first, as seven eggs were counted on 26 May when we added a predator baffle below the box. On 29 May at least nine eggs were counted. Stegenga did not inspect the entire nest because several eggs had settled into the nesting material. He could not determine if these nine eggs were a complete set laid during the same period or if the count included some buried eggs.

On 14 June, five nestlings were present and the adult swallows mobbed humans walking nearby. On the morning of 25 June the five nearly full-grown but stubby-tailed nestlings were banded and photographed by Bill Hilton Jr. (Hilton, 2001); the adult swallows constantly swooped at Hilton and other observers during the process and eventually returned to the box to tend the nestlings after banding was completed. By 07:30 on 27 June, the young had fledged. Ants and mites infested the nest material. No birds roosted in the box that night and we salvaged the nest on 28 June, placing it in the Vertebrate Collections at Clemson University (Acc. # 986). At 08:45 on 28 June, the fledglings were sighted high in an oak perched on some exposed branches. The oak was between the lake and parking area. The two adults appeared to be feeding the young. At 20:00 five fledglings were seen in the same tree.

On 7 May 2001, Larry LeCroy found Tree Swallows using two boxes on the 8th and 9th fairways of Falcon's Lair Golf Course in Salem, Oconee County, SC. The nest on the 8th fairway appeared to be complete on 8 May, and on 16 May contained at least four eggs. On 26 May, Wagner found that the nest contained five eggs and photographed them. On 9 June the nest was empty, apparently as a result of predation.

The nest on the 9th fairway also appeared to be complete on 8 May, and on 14 May contained four eggs. On 26 May at 08:09 Wagner examined the box again and photographed a nest containing four nestlings. On 9 June the nest contained four nestlings that were almost fully feathered. The fate of these nestlings is unknown. Wagner salvaged the swallow nest from the 9th fairway on 28 June. The nest and photographs were placed in the Vertebrate Collections at Clemson University (Acc. # 986).

Tree Swallows again nested at Table Rock State Park in 2002. On 19 April, Stegenga observed Tree Swallows entering a box to the north of the visitor center building. On 1 May a nest and two eggs were present. Five eggs were counted on 7 May. The box was disturbed by an unknown agent later in the day on 7 May and all five eggs were broken. Adult swallows were seen entering the box on 10 May but the birds did not attempt to nest in that box again.

On 14 May 2002, after Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) fledged young from the same box used by Tree Swallows in 2001, a swallow pair began building a nest that that was complete by 17 May. Three eggs were present on 23 May and five eggs were counted on 25 May. The nest contained five nestlings on 11 June. Four swallows fledged either on 24 June or the next morning. The last fledgling was out of the box before 16:00 on 25 June. At least three fledglings were seen perched with adult Tree Swallows in small persimmon trees between the visitor center and the lake at about 17:30 on 25 June. Juvenile Northern Rough-winged Swallows (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) perched in the same trees. No Tree Swallows were seen on 26 June when Northern Rough-winged Swallows again were in the persimmon trees.

These breeding records from South Carolina represent a continuation of a Tree Swallow breeding range expansion described by Lee (1993). The locations of these first South Carolina nesting records in Oconee and Pickens counties might be expected because first nesting records for Georgia and North Carolina also were from mountain counties. Transylvania and Henderson counties in North Carolina-where swallows first nested in 1988 and 1989 (Lee 1993)-adjoin Pickens and Oconee counties. Given the number of Tree Swallow nesting records from Georgia and North Carolina in the past decade, it is surprising that breeding was not confirmed in South Carolina before 2001. If Tree Swallows follow the same pattern of nesting range expansion in South Carolina that has occurred in Georgia and North Carolina, we should expect additional nesting records from Oconee, Pickens, northern Greenville, and perhaps adjoining counties in coming years.


We thank Don Cox, Larry LeCroy and Irvin Pitts for sharing their field observations for this note. Giff Beaton provided current information on the status of Tree Swallows in Georgia and provided comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. Stanlee Miller archived photographs and the salvaged nests in the Vertebrate Collections at Clemson University. Dennis Forsythe, Donna Forsythe and Will Post provided numerous helpful comments on this note.

Literature Cited

American Ornithologists' Union. 1998. Check-list of North American Birds. 7th edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D. C.

Cooper, S. and K. W. Markham. 1994. Tree Swallow nests in the coastal plain of North Carolina. Chat 58: 121-122.

Haney, J. C., P. Brisse, D. R. Jacobson, M. W. Oberle, and J. M. Paget. 1986. Annotated checklist of Georgia birds. Georgia Ornithological Society, Occasional Publication No. 10.

Hilton Jr., B. 2001. First South Carolina nesting records for Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor), www.hiltonpond.org/ResearchSwallowTreeMain.html, Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History, York SC.

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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka The Piedmont Naturalist, it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this website--including articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this Web site, contact the Webmaster.