While tree swallows will eat berries (particularly waxy bayberries) and fruits, most swallow species subsist entirely on flying and water-skimming insects such as beetles and flying ants. Purple martins will eat bigger insects as large as a butterfly, and other species also eat spiders and swarming insects like midges and mosquitoes. Virtually all insects are eaten in flight, and sometimes on the surface of the water. Swallows can even drink in flight by dipping their bills into the water as they fly across a pond or lake.

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