Barn Swallow

Common Name: Barn Swallow
Class:
Aves
Order:
Passeriformes
Family:
Hirundinidae
Genus:
Hirundo
Species:
Hirundo rustica

photo M. Noonan

Taxonomy/Description

The Barn Swallow belongs to the order of perching birds, Passeriformes. It is a member of the swallow and martin family, Hirundinidae. The genus Hirundo is the Latin word for “swallow.” The species name, Hirundo rustica, literally means “swallow of the country.”


A Barn Swallow can measure 6-7 in (15-19 cm) from head to tail. Wingspan measures 11-13 in (29-32 cm). It can weigh between 0.6-0.71 ounces (17- 20 g). Male and female Barn Swallows are similar in appearance, except males have a longer tail and a darker underside. Both have a dark blue back and a light tan underside with a dark red throat. Barn Swallows are the only swallow that possesses a true swallow tail, which is one that is deeply forked. The tail also has small white spots on it.

Habitat/Diet

Barn Swallows are cosmopolitan. They have the widest distribution of all the swallows, and they are also the most abundant. Their summer range in the western hemisphere extends from the central parts of Mexico to the southern portions of Alaska. In the east, it extends from the northern parts of Africa to Eurasia. Their winter range runs from south Mexico to the lowland portions of South America. Specifically, Barn Swallows are found in open habitats, marshes, lakeshores, fields, and farms.

Like all swallows, Barn Swallows are aerial insectivores. They forage for flying insects, such as mosquitoes, moths, and dragonflies by flying straight and low to the ground. Barn Swallows are opportunistic feeders, and have been known to follow farm vehicles out in the field in order to feed on the disturbed insects.

 

photo M. Noonan

 

Behavior/Reproduction

Barn Swallows are monogamous. They are social birds that tend to live in small colonies, and extra-pair copulations are known to occur. Males attract females by singing to them and displaying their tails. Studies have shown that females prefer males with long, symmetrical tails. Adults without a mate may act as “helpers” to a breeding pair. These helpers are usually males, and they assist with nest building, incubation, and defending the nest.

Barn Swallow nests can be a cup or funnel shaped structure. It is made out of mud, clay, grass, and plant stems, and is either attached to the side of a wall or placed on top of a ledge. Female Barn Swallows lay between three to seven eggs. These eggs are a creamy white color marked with dark brown. The eggs are incubated by both the male and the female for about two weeks. Once the eggs hatch, both parents take turns feeding the young. Young Barn Swallows fledge three weeks after they hatch.

Vocalization

Song is a musical blend of soft twittering and chattering. Sometimes members of a colony will sing together in a chorus.

Where to see them in WNY

Barn Swallows are often found near farms, open fields, and places with water such as ponds and marshes. A good place to find them is in the Emergent Marsh of the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge

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