On a recent trip to the country, I was delighted to get a close look at some barn swallows at Reroot Organic Farm. So was the barn cat! She craned her neck to watch the birds’ spirited trekking back and forth across the ceiling.
Especially during migration, barn swallows can be seen foraging together with other swallow species including tree, cliff, bank and northern rough-winged. Barn swallows are most easily distinguished by their deeply forked tails, whereas other swallows have a shallow notch. They have a splendid, solid iridescent blue back and tawny underside. Tree swallows also have a solid iridescent back but white throat and underparts.
Barn swallows are the most common swallow species in the world, nesting throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere and wintering in the Southern. Despite this, the species has been designated as threatened on Ontario’s Endangered Species list. According to data collected in the North American Breeding Bird Survey, their population in Canada declined 30 percent from 1999 to 2009.
The barn swallow’s problem may be related to the general decline (which we have discussed here before) of a large group of aerial insectivores, including swifts, swallows, flycatchers and other bird groups. This phenomenon may be related to human pesticide use and changes in insect populations, but not enough data is available to prove this.
Barn swallows are so named because they usually build their nests in human-made structures such as barns or bridges. Besides the countryside, they can be found in urban areas bordering on parks, ball fields and open water. If you know of barn swallows nesting in your area, you can collect data to help understand their decline. Check out the NestWatchers page on Bird Studies Canada’s website. To protect their habitat, avoid disturbing nests during the breeding season.