Barn swallows abundant but in decline

Barn swallows

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.

4 thoughts on “Barn swallows abundant but in decline

  1. Love these little guys! We have at least two families: one on the front porch, and one nesting near the roof of the house. Sad to hear they’re in decline.

    1. Thanks for sharing your abode and providing habitat for them Mikaela. It must be delightful to have them around!

  2. We don’t have barn swallows here (not that I’ve seen), but tree swallows abound. It is my greatest pleasure to see them (tsubame) swooping and sweeping overhead. It makes me sweetly homesick where their silly chatter used to keep me company in the garden. Their decline is heart-breaking, another indicator of what we are doing to our world. I just read a great essay in Orion Magazine centered around the question ‘what if we thought of biology as religion?’ The author posits that if we did we would have a greater respect for the natural world and all its varied life forms. Maybe it’s not a bad idea. The barn swallow certainly gives me a feeling of worshipful joy.

    1. I think of biology (or at least nature) as my religion, so I must look up the Orion article. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Joan.

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