Tree Swallow

by Brad James
June 8, 2014


About 4 years ago I met Brendan Kelly (a 17 year old conservationist and growing photographer) who brought me to a small pond not far from his house where he had setup a number of nest boxes for Tree Swallows to use upon their arrival in spring. It was the first time I had seen a Tree Swallow and I was amazed at their flying ability. They are constantly on the move chasing flies and gathering nesting material.  In the past four years pretty much every box has been used to raise young.


Tree Swallows have such a tame nature and are not weary of the presence of humans allowing for great photographic opportunities. Once they arrive to Newfoundland (tree swallows are spring migrates to the island) I usually due a few short sessions before the incubation period so not to disturb them during this time.


Tree swallows build their nests out of dry grass, plant stems and sometimes pine needles. Near the end of the nest building stage they will line it with white feathers.


Here you can see one of the swallows returning with some dried grass.




And here I placed a feather on this perch to entice one to come in and land.


Tree Swallow by Brad James ©



Swallows will often fight over nest boxes or have disputes with their nesting partner.


Tree Swallow by Brad James ©



For the photo sessions I will usually find interesting perches to bring along with me and setup near the nest box. It only takes a short time for the swallows to start using the perches and I personally think they like having some where to stop and rest as they build and defend.


Here is another perch I setup and this shot was taken on a foggy Saturday morning. With the lack of harsh sun I was better able to expose both the whites and darks of the bird’s feathers.


Tree Swallow by Brad James ©

It's great when you can setup a perch the way you want and have the background you desire but its also nice to capture images of them on natural perches as well as you can see in the following images



Tree Swallow by Brad James ©



I’ve made many attempts at capturing an in flight shot of these guys but with little success so far. They have very unpredictable flight patterns, constantly turning, banking and diving. On the very same morning as the above image I was able to capture this shot using my Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 by pre-focusing on grass at the bottom of the frame. This swallow would return to the same location time and time again to gather grass.



Tree Swallow in flight by Brad James.


If you find tree swallows at a local pond near you try setting up a best box. It not only provides them with a better opportunity for a successful breeding season but also provides you with great viewing pleasure and photo ops. Keep in mind to respect the bird in their nesting area and give them as much space as possible.

The above images where shot using my Nikkor 200-400mmF4 with Tele 1.4x. attached to either the D7100 or D300s.


Bread James portrait

Brad is a Technical Support Analyst with the Federal Government and lives in Conception Bay South, Newfoundland. He has been doing wildlife photography for approximately five years and admits it has brought back the child in him. As a young boy, he was always interested in learning about animals, watched wildlife documentaries on TV, and read National Geographic magazines. When he picked up his first digital camera, he was hooked. Brad soon began to realize the fulfillment he felt from being creative with the camera. He remembers heading out to a local pond looking for subjects to photograph and came upon a Great Blue Heron (He lived in Ottawa, Ontario at the time). Not owning a quality telephoto lens presented a challenge as he wanted to get closer and capture the beauty of this bird, study its behaviour and learn more about it. This was the beginning of his so-called addiction.

After some life changes, Brad moved back home to Newfoundland in 2010. With this new found passion, he set a goal as a wildlife photographer to capture the beauty of animals, especially birds, and in so doing, show people that not only does Newfoundland have a magnificent rugged landscape but that it is 'home' to an amazing array of different wildlife. His work has been published in magainzes such as the March Edition of BBC Wildlife Magazine and L'Image Magazine.


Brad has also published a new book showcasing many of his images taken on the island of Newfoundland which you can find at



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