The Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) is the most widespread species of swallow in the world. It is a distinctive passerine bird with blue upperparts, a long, deeply forked tail and curved, pointed wings. It is found in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. In Anglophone Europe it is just called the swallow; in Northern Europe, it is the only common species called a “swallow” rather than a “martin.”
There are six subspecies of the barn swallow, which breed across the Northern Hemisphere. Four are strongly migratory, and their wintering grounds cover much of the Southern Hemisphere as far south as central Argentina, the Cape Province of South Africa, and northern Australia. Its huge range means that the barn swallow is not endangered, although there may be local population declines due to specific threats.
The Barn Swallow is a bird of open country that normally uses man-made structures to breed and consequently has spread with human expansion. It builds a cup nest from mud pellets in barns or similar structures and feeds on insects caught in flight. This species lives in close association with humans, and its insect-eating habits mean that it is tolerated by humans; this acceptance was reinforced in the past by superstitions regarding the bird and its nest. There are frequent cultural references to the Barn Swallow in literary and religious works due to both its living in close proximity to humans and its annual migration. The Barn Swallow is the national bird of Estonia. [Wikipedia]
Glistening cobalt blue above and tawny below, Barn Swallows dart gracefully over fields, barnyards, and open water in search of flying insect prey. Look for the long, deeply forked tail that streams out behind this agile flyer and sets it apart from all other North American swallows. Barn Swallows often cruise low, flying just a few inches above the ground or water. True to their name, they build their cup-shaped mud nests almost exclusively on human-made structures. [All About Birds]
Barn Swallow Facts [All About Birds]
- Barn Swallow parents sometimes get help from other birds to feed their young. These “helpers at the nest” are usually older siblings from previous clutches, but unrelated juveniles may help as well.
- An unmated male Barn Swallow may kill the nestlings of a nesting pair. His actions often succeed in breaking up the pair and afford him the opportunity to mate with the female.
- Although the killing of egrets is often cited for inspiring the U.S. conservation movement, it was the millinery (hat-making) trade’s impact on Barn Swallows that prompted naturalist George Bird Grinnell’s 1886 Forest & Stream editorial decrying the waste of bird life. His essay led to the founding of the first Audubon Society.
- The oldest known Barn Swallow in North America was at least 10 years old when it was recaptured and rereleased during a banding operation in Maryland.