What bird is this?

Seen late at night on top of the door to a rest stop vending machine area in the Tennessee/North Carolina border region. I was trying to photograph a huge pine sawyer that had been flying around inside when I noticed the bird, which wasn’t moving even with me inches from it. Eventually it flew maybe 20 feet away, looped back around, and landed on the sidewalk maybe 10 feet away, where it stayed. Is this an adult? Fledgling? It wasn’t acting very cautiously.

Looks to me like a juvenile barn swallow.


I’m pretty sure it’s in the nightjar family, probably a juvenile. This family includes nighthawks and whip-poor-wills. Here are some pictures.

I agree. It’s definitely a swallow. The cinnamon throat and breast and dark partial collar identify it as a Barn Swallow. The yellow gape (edge of the beak) and dull coloration indicate it is ajuvenile, a recently fledged young of the year.


(FWIW, the huge flying insect that I remembered for some reason as being called a pine sawyer (the last time I had seen one and googled for it) wasn’t. It was a male Dobsonfly.)

Colibri, you would made a damn good eyewitness. “Yes your honor, I observed a young red-tailed hawk between 2 and 3 months old, demonstrated by the coloration on the edge of the beak, as shown here - descend upon the neighbor’s cat…”


As a birder, it’s necessary to know exactly which characteristics (field marks) are diagnostic in order to distinguish one species from similar ones. (If you don’t know them by heart, it’s a rule of nature that you’ll end up looking at the bill when the critical feature is in the tail. ;))

Since we’re on barn swallows - I once watched one playing with a small feather. He/she would fly upward a bit, drop the feather and then swoop down to catch it after it fell 3-4 feet. This went on non-stop for a couple of minutes. I don’t know who he was trying to impress he got my attention.

Here is the Dobson fly alongside the bird for scale (two different shots, but the lintel is close enough to the same size to give a pretty accurate size representation between the two.)

Was the bird stalking the fly? Or maybe the fly was stalking the bird?

That insect is way too big for a swallow to eat. Adult Dobsonflies (not an actual fly, but a different order of insect) live about a week and are not known to eat. The huge jaws of males like this one are used to compete with other males for females. They are too long for males to actually bite anything.

The fly was bumping around the lights in the building much like a moth. Eventually it went outside and there is where it sat and I saw the bird, either chillin’ or cowering in terror, a couple of feet from the Dobson fly.

After I took those photos it flew back in and landed on my cousin that I was traveling with. I lifted it off and it tried to bite me, but the jaws were too clumsy and weak to result in anything more than a bug hug.

Was it carrying a coconut?