Adults are 13-15cm in length, brown on top with light underparts and a forked tail. They are similar in appearance to the Bank Swallow but have a dusky throat and breast. They are closely related and very similar to the Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Stelgidopteryx ruficollis, but that species has a more contrasting rump, and the ranges do not quite overlap.
Their breeding habitat is near streams, lakes and river banks across North America. They nest in cavities near water, usually a burrow in dirt; they do not usually form colonies. The normal clutch is 4-8 eggs, incubated by the female for 13 days, with another 20 to fledging.
These birds forage in flight over water or fields, usually flying low. They eat insects.
"Rough-winged" refers to the serrated edge feathers on the wing of this bird; this feature would only be apparent when holding this bird.