BARN SWALLOW – (Hirundo rustica)
DESCRIPTION: The Barn Swallow has a long forked tail and a rufous-colored forehead and throat. The top parts are iridescent dark blue and the under parts are white with a tinge of cinnamon. The wings are pointed. The bill is small and large at the base. Females have duller colors. This bird is about 18 cm (7 inches) long.
NAME: The English name ‘swallow’ stems from the feeding habits of this bird. The Latin genus name ‘Hirundo’ means ‘swallow’, and the Latin species name ‘rustica’ means ‘of the country’, in reference to its nesting locations.
HABITAT: Open areas either above the ground or water, where they can find their insect prey.
DIET: Barn swallows feed on insects that they catch on the fly. They are often seen flying low above water. This behavior lead to the superstition that if one of their wings touches the water, bad weather is coming.
NESTING: The barn swallow has a unique way of building its nest. In the wild it uses vertical surfaces in caves, but now this bird has well adapted its nesting behavior to human civilization. The nest can be found attached to all types of building structures, especially old barns.
The nest is made of mud mixed with the bird’s saliva. Below is a photo of a typical barn swallow nest. Barn swallows are very protective of their nests. They will not hesitate to swoop down on any perceived threat, whatever its size.
An average of six creamy eggs are laid, which are usually incubated by the female. Chicks are fed by both parents until about a week after they fledge.
Here’s an article about delaying the demolition of a house in China because of barn swallows nesting on it.
DISTRIBUTION: The barn swallow is one of the most common and widespread land birds throughout the world. Its numbers are in the 190 million range. It breeds in the northern hemisphere and winters in the southern hemisphere. A small percentage (around 4%) of the global population breeds in Canada.
ON PEI: On Prince Edward Island the barn swallow is still fairly common, except in the winter.
CONSERVATION: Globally, barn swallows have increased their population as forests were cut leading to more open spaces. They also adapted to using human-made structures for building their nests.
However, in Canada this bird numbers have declined to the point where the species is now listed as ‘threatened’ (see COSEWIC reference below). One cause is conversion of farm buildings where the birds can’t build their nests anymore. Another is increased use of pesticides, thus reducing the insect populations barn swallows feed from.
On Prince Edward Island this swallow species has declined by 76% in the last few decades, and is now mostly found in agricultural areas. Island Nature Trust has a conservation program for this bird on the island.
NOTES: Barn swallows roost in large numbers when non breeding. They drink and bathe by flying low over the water. Swallows have a large bill at the base, which allows them to catch insects on the fly.
The barn swallow has the reputation of announcing spring, although other bird species arrive earlier from their winter migrations (proverb: One Swallow Does Not a Spring Make).
There appears to be a mutualist relationship between Ospreys and Barn Swallows (see the Animal Diversity Web reference below for details).
SIMILAR SPECIES: Cliff Swallow, Tree Swallow
https://www.mba-aom.ca/jsp/toc.jsp (Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas)
https://www.ontario.ca/page/barn-swallow (Species At Risk)
BARN SWALLOW – (Hirundo rustica)