Photo: Michelle Maani/Audubon Photography Awards

Barn Swallow

Hirundo rustica

One of our most familiar birds in rural areas and semi-open country, this swallow is often seen skimming low over fields with a flowing, graceful flight. It seems to have adopted humans as neighbors, typically placing its nest in barns or garages, or under bridges or wharves; indeed, it is now rare to find a Barn Swallow nest in a site that is not manmade. The species is also common across Europe and Asia, wintering to southern Africa and South America.
Conservation status Local declines noted in a few areas, but still widespread and abundant.
Family Swallows
Habitat Open or semi-open land, farms, fields, marshes, lakes. May occur in any kind of open or partly open terrain, especially near water, generally avoiding very dry country and unbroken forest. Often breeds around farms, buildings, towns, and forages over fields or ponds.
One of our most familiar birds in rural areas and semi-open country, this swallow is often seen skimming low over fields with a flowing, graceful flight. It seems to have adopted humans as neighbors, typically placing its nest in barns or garages, or under bridges or wharves; indeed, it is now rare to find a Barn Swallow nest in a site that is not manmade. The species is also common across Europe and Asia, wintering to southern Africa and South America.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • juvenile
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Food is mostly captured and eaten in the air. Often forages quite low over water or fields. In bad weather, may sometimes feed on the ground.


Eggs

4-5, sometimes 6, rarely 7. White, spotted with brown. Incubation is by both sexes (female does more), 13-17 days. Young: Both parents feed young. One or two additional birds, the pair's offspring from previous broods, may attend the nest and sometimes feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 18-23 days after hatching. 1 or 2 broods per year.


Young

Both parents feed young. One or two additional birds, the pair's offspring from previous broods, may attend the nest and sometimes feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 18-23 days after hatching. 1 or 2 broods per year.

Diet

Insects. Feeds on a wide variety of flying insects, especially flies (including house flies and horse flies), beetles, wasps, wild bees, winged ants, and true bugs. Also eats some moths, damselflies, grasshoppers, and other insects, and a few spiders and snails. Only occasionally eats a few berries or seeds.


Nesting

Courtship involves aerial chases. On perch, mated pair sit close together, touch bills, preen each other's feathers. Several pairs may nest in same immediate area, but does not form dense colonies like some swallows. Nest: Original natural sites were in sheltered crevices in cliffs or shallow caves. Sites used today are mostly in open buildings, under eaves, under bridges or docks, or similar places. Nest (built by both sexes) is a cup of mud and dried grass, lined with feathers.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Migration

Migrates in flocks, mostly by day. Southward migration is well under way by mid-August.

Help this bird. Donate today
Migration

Migrates in flocks, mostly by day. Southward migration is well under way by mid-August.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Constant liquid twittering and chattering.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.