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Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
Identification & Life History

Identification

  • Steely-blue back, wings, and tail
  • Underparts pale rufous to cinnamon-coloured
  • Chestnut-coloured throat and forehead
  • Easily distinguished from all other swallow species in North America by long forked tail
  • Males and females similar, though males tend to be darker and have longer outer tail-streamers

Range

  • Breeds throughout the Northern Hemisphere and winters in most areas of the Southern Hemisphere
  • Found on every continent except Antarctica
  • The most widely distributed species of swallow in the world
  • In North America, breeds across Canada south of the treeline, throughout the U.S., and in most of northern and central Mexico

Habitat and Feeding Habits

  • Originally nested in caves and in crevices on cliff faces; now mostly found nesting in and around human structures (e.g., barns, sheds, boathouses, bridges, culverts)
  • Feeds on flying insects. Forages over agricultural fields, other open areas, ponds, lakes, and other open water

Migration

  • Diurnal, long distance-migrant
Barn Swallow nest under construction (Photo: Dan & Lin Dzurisin)

Barn Swallow Nesting Information

Spring arrival in southern Canada begins in mid-late April and peaks in early to mid-May. Pair formation occurs on breeding grounds, upon arrival or shortly after.

Nest construction takes an average of one to two weeks, but nest sites and old nests are often re-used. Both the female and male participate in nest building, though females are more involved. Nests are constructed from mouthfuls of wet mud mixed with grasses and lined with grass, animal hair, and feathers (usually white). Old nests are 'renovated' with new mud and new lining each year.

Hatching Barn Swallow nest (Photo: Kati Fleming)

Nesting Facts

Clutch size: 3-7 eggs

Incubation period: 12-17 days
(incubated mostly by female)

Nestling period: 17-24 days
(fed by both parents)

Number of broods: 1-2
(1st clutches generally larger than 2nd clutches)

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