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Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow
Hirundo rustica (subspecies: erythrogaster)
(Order: Passeriformes, Family: Hirundinidae)


Hirundo rustica erythrogaster (© Eddy Y., 2001, from: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/barn_swallow/id)


Description: A fairly small bird, adults attain a length of 15-20 cm (5.5-8.0 inches) nearly an inch of which are due to their elongated outer tail feathers. Their wingspan is 32.0-34.5 cm (13.0-13.5 inches). The upper-parts are dark steely blue. The cream colored breast feathers often have a reddish tinge in the American subspecies with an incomplete blue ring around the neck and rust colored forehead. Males have a series of large white spots on the tail feathers which are greatly reduced in females.

     
Male (right) and female (left) in mud nest (© Laura Erickson, 2009) and Juvenile (© Jo-Anna Ghadban, 2009) (from:http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/barn_swallow/id)

 

Adult Natural History: Barn Swallows perform long migrations from South America, returning to North. America to breed in warmer months. They are often seen nesting on man made structures in a nest that they construct from mud and line with soft materials such as feathers or animal hair. In the wild, nests are built against steep cliffs near rivers or caves. They have also been observed along lake shores and in marshes. Males often arrive first to select and defend nest sites. Pairs mate for life but males may mate with multiple females in a year.

Females may lay two clutches of eggs each season, using the same nest for both in succession. Males and females cooperate in raising juveniles flying hundreds of miles each day in search of food. They are swift and acrobatic fliers, defending their nests by fiercely swooping and diving at potential predators in an attempt to drive them away. Unrelated birds often nest together in colonies and help raise each other's young. As a result, fledgling birds enjoy an exceptionally low mortality rate. During their annual migrations Barn Swallows roost in enormous numbers each night, preferring to fly during the day.

They eat and drink in flight. Catching insects in the air and skimming bodies of water to drink. They bathe in a similar manner, briefly submerging themselves in water as they fly over it.

Male gathering nesting material (© Robinsegg, 2005 from:http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/barn_swallow/id)

 

Distribution: This species has world wide distribution of six subspecies. Hirundo rustica erythrogaster is the only subspecies found in the Americas and is found from the tip of South America to the southern half of Canada. It's breeding range extends from northern Mexico to southern Canada. They are extremely common across Kansas and other plains states.


Distribution map of Hirundo rustica erythrogaster (from: 
http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/barn_swallow/lifehistory)

 

Habitat: Barn Swallows are one of few species to benefit from the spread of civilization and especially the clearing of woodlands as they rarely if ever roost or build nests in wooded areas. They are especially common around human-made structures such as barns and bridges where they build their nests. They prefer open, grassy plains low vegetation near sources of water. In their southern range they prefer savannah and are seen roosting near the ground. They will occasionally roost on wires though this exposes them to predators.


 

Diet: Adults hunt for flying insects during the day catching them in mid-flight. They have also been observed feeding on aphids in North America.

Hirundo rustica gutturalis (Japanese subspecies) catching prey in flight (© John Wright, 2013 from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnandrewwright/8670606633/)

 

Conservation Status: Least Concern (IUCN)

 

Links:

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barn_Swallow

How to attract swallows: http://birding.about.com/od/Specific-Birds/a/How-To-Attract-Swallows.htm

National Geographic page: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birding/barn-swallow/

 

References:

Bull, John and Farrand, John. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Eastern Region. New York: Chanticleer Press, (1977). 

Mason, E.A. Barn Swallow Life History Data Based on Banding Records. Bird-Banding (1953) 24.3: 91-100

 

Submitted by: David Wickell, July 2013. 

 

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