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Barn Swallow

(Hirundo rustica)
Banded May 27, 1998 - Danville, Indiana

General Information

The popular and attractive Barn Swallow, found worldwide, is the most widespread of the swallows. In the western hemisphere, it winters in South America, but migrates northward to breed over most of North America. A round trip may cover 14,000 miles. They prefer open country, and readily nest on man-made structures. They perform an important economic function as they cruise low over lawns, fields, lakes, and ponds, consuming large numbers of flies, aphids, beetles, bees, moths, mayflies, dragonflies, grasshoppers, caterpillars and other insects.


The Barn Swallow has a glossy steel blue upper side, white underside, and chestnut forehead, chin and throat.

Female Barn Swallow
Figure 1 - Female Barn Swallow


Barn Swallow Nesting Habitat
 Figure 2 - Barn Swallow Nesting Habitat


Barn Swallows nest in colonies. Typical nesting habitats are open barns, bridges, culverts, and other artificial structures. Note the mist net across the openings used to catch the swallows.

The nest, constructed of mud pellets and plant fibers, is built by both parents. It is usually attached to a vertical surface as shown here. From 4 to 5 eggs are incubated by the female hatch in 14 to 16 days. Both parents feed the young who leave the nest in 17 to 24 days. Two broods may be raised in a breeding season.


Barn Swallow Nest
Figure 3 - Barn Swallow Nest

Adult Female Barn Swallow
Figure 4 - Adult Female Barn Swallow


The forehead, chin and throat are an attractive chestnut color. The chestnut throat is separated from the white or buffy white chest and belly by a blue breast band.

The upper side is a metallic steel blue.

Barn Swallow Upper Back 
Figure 5 - Barn Swallow Upper Back 


Barn Swallow Under Tail
 Figure 6 - Barn Swallow Under Tail


The tail is deeply forked. A central white patch on the blackish tail feathers creates a white band across the tail.

The deeply forked tail is emphasized by the tail streamers on each side. Males generally have longer streamers than females.

Barn Swallow Upper Tail
Figure 7 - Barn Swallow Upper Tail


Under Wing Coverts
Figure 8 - Under Wing Coverts


The under side and under wing coverts are buffy white.

During the breeding season, females lose the feathers on their breast and belly and develop a brood patch that enables them to incubate their eggs. After the eggs hatch, the brood patch begins to disappear, wrinkles form, and eventually new feathers grow in.


Female Brood Patch
Figure 9 - Female Brood Patch

Banding Recoveries

The Bird Banding Lab web site reports that between 1955 to 1997, a total of 174,277 Barn Swallows were banded. Of these, 1,157 have been recovered, a recovery rate of 0.66%. Banding studies show that Barn Swallows are long distance migrants, and may live from to 6 to 8 years in the wild. Some may travel from Argentina to Alaska and back in one season. If you should recover a banded bird, report the band number to the Bird Banding Lab by calling 1-800-327-BAND.


Historically, Barn Swallow populations have suffered from competition with House Sparrows. The use of pesticides and the resulting reduction of insects has also contributed to their decline. Unusually cold weather during the nesting season also reduces the availability of insects and may lead to starvation of young and adults. Fortunately, Barn Swallows readily adapt to man's artificial structures. Their populations are doing well in many regions, but in some regions declines are still occurring.

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