Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
[order] Passeriformes | [family] Hirundinidae | [latin] Hirundo rustica | [UK] Barn Swallow | [FR] Hirondelle rustique | [DE] Rauchschwalbe | [ES] Golondrina Bermeja | [IT] Rondine comune | [NL] Boerenzwaluw
spanwidth min.: 32 cm
spanwidth max.: 34 cm
size min.: 17 cm
size max.: 21 cm
incubation min.: 15 days
incubation max.: 19 days
fledging min.: 18 days
fledging max.: 23 days
eggs min.: 3
eggs max.: 6
The Barn Swallow is a distinctive bird with bold plumage and a long, slender, deeply forked tail. Barn Swallows are deep blue above, with an orange-buff breast and belly. They have russet throats and forehead patches. The rest of the head is deep blue, extending in a line through the eye, giving the birds a masked appearance. Females are slightly duller and shorter-tailed than males. Juveniles look similar to adults, but have much shorter tails.
Barn Swallows can often be seen foraging for insects low over fields or water. In bad weather, they sometimes forage on the ground. They gather mud for their nests from mud puddles, although they do not raise their wings when they do this.
Barn Swallows need open areas to forage and suitable sites for nesting, now almost always buildings, bridges, or other man-made structures. They generally avoid unbroken forest and very dry areas. Their original habitat was most likely mountainous areas and seacoasts with caves, hollow trees, and rock crevices for nesting. Now that they have adapted to living with humans, they are found in agricultural areas, suburbs, and along highways--anywhere there are open areas and nesting structures, especially if water is close by.
Hirundo rustica is a widespread summer visitor to most of Europe, which accounts for less than a quarter of its global breeding range. Its European breeding population is extremely large (>16,000,000 pairs), but underwent a moderate decline between 1970-1990. Although declines abated or even reversed in certain countries during 1990-2000, the species continued to decline across much of Europe, and underwent a small decline overall. Its population has clearly not yet recovered to the level that preceded its initial decline.
The Barn Swallow's close association with humans in Europe goes back over 2,000 years. In North America, the shift from natural to human-made nest sites was nearly complete by the middle of the 20th Century. The Barn Swallow's range has expanded considerably in North America with European settlement, and Barn Swallows are widespread and abundant across their current range.
Barn Swallows eat mostly flying insects, especially flies, although they occasionally eat berries, seeds, and dead insects from the ground.
While several Barn Swallows may nest near each other, they do not form dense colonies. They are usually monogamous during the breeding season, but extra-pair copulations are common, and new pairs form each spring. Polygyny sometimes occurs, and helpers not only help build and guard the nest but also incubate the eggs and brood the young, although they generally do not feed the young. A few birds still nest in caves, but 99% of the breeding Barn Swallows in Washington now build their nests on eaves, bridges, docks, or other man-made structures with a ledge that can support the nest, a vertical wall to which it can be attached, and a roof. Both members of the pair build the nest--a mass of mud, straw, feathers, and sticks. Barn Swallow nests are relatively untidy. Both members of the pair incubate the four to five eggs for 12 to 17 days, and both feed the young. The young leave the nest 20 to 21 days after hatching.
Migratory. A few aberrant individuals winter every year in southern and western Europe as far north as Britain and Ireland, and recorded annually in winter in southern Spain; small numbers winter regularly in North Africa; also small resident or partly resident populations in east Mediterranean countries. Otherwise, west Palearctic birds are long-distance migrants. European and north-west Asian birds winter largely in Africa, mainly south of equator, though also locally numerous in West Africa. Passage broad-front, including large transdesert movements into and out of Africa across Sahara and Middle East. Juvenile dispersals begin July and become oriented southwards by early August as migration begins. Autumn passage protracted, with peak exodus from north-west Europe in September and first half of October. Mediterranean passage and arrivals in Africa north of equator are at height mid-September to late October, and birds become numerous in wintering regions south of equator in November. Return movement begins February. In North Africa, Mediterranean basin, and Middle East, peak spring movement occurs mid-March to late April. Early birds return to north-west Europe in second half of March, though main arrivals mid-April to mid-May