Swallows are a staple of American traditional tattooing, and were first tattooed on sailors. They are as popular as ever to those who love travel and the sea, and are now done in other styles such as black and grey, realism, linework, dotwork, surrealism, and watercolor.
The meaning of a swallow tattoo was firstly to indicate that a sailor had sailed 5000 miles. They also mean a return home, as swallows would migrate, returning to their homes. A metaphorical return also meant that if a sailor died at sea, the swallow would carry their souls to heaven.