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Barn Swallow

Common Name: Barn Swallow.

Scientific Name: Hirundo Rustica.

What to look for?  A flash of red, orange and blue darting about in the sky. And a deeply forked tail. The Barn Swallow has a slate-blue head and wings. Both its throat and forehead are rusty-orange. Their chest and underside are a paler orange. The tail extends well beyond the wingtips. And the Barn Swallow has long outer feathers that give the tail a deep fork. Males are more boldly colored than females.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? Flying over our ponds! Barn Swallows may be seen intermixed with the Tree Swallows darting above the surface of Carillon Stonegate Pond. And if you are out for a walk, you may find one at the wetlands next to the police station.

How big are they? The Barn Swallow averages just over 6 ½ inches in length. And their wingspan is just over twelve inches. They weigh in at around 0.6 ounces.

What are their flight patterns? Barn Swallows are very agile fliers. Their flight style is called "Flap-gliding" where short bursts of flapping are alternated with intervals in which the wings are extended in a glide. Barn Swallows – like Tree Swallows - live much of their life on the wing - drinking, feeding, courting, and even mating in mid-air. They are acrobatic fliers, making sharp twists, turns, swoops, and lunges. Barn Swallows often cruise low, flying just a few inches above the ground or water. They fly with fluid wingbeats in bursts of straight flight. While they rarely glide for long periods, they execute quick, tight turns and dives with their wings extended.

How else do they behave? Barn Swallows also drink and even bathe on the wing, dipping down to take a mouthful of water or touch their belly to the surface for a quick rinse. Males defend a small territory around the nest site and aggressively chase away other males. Individuals or groups of Barn Swallows mob predators such as hawks, gulls, or grackles that approach nests.

What’s for dinner? The Barn Swallow is an insectivore. It only eats insects. The Barn Swallow feeds on a wide variety of flying insects, especially flies. Other insects on its dining menu include beetles, wasps, wild bees, winged ants, some moths, damselflies, grasshoppers, and a few spiders. The Barn Swallow zig-zags through the air in pursuit of its prey. And it even grabs a drink of water while flying! It skims over the surface of a body of water and scoops up water in its bill.

Where do they take up residence? Barn Swallows can be found across most of North America, including here in Illinois. The species is also common across Europe and Asia. You can find Barn Swallows in open habitats from fields, parks, and roadway edges to marshes, meadows ponds, and coastal waters. They are a familiar sight on farms and in other rural habitats. The Barn Swallow has adopted well to having humans as neighbors, typically placing its nest in barns or garages, or under bridges or wharves; such that, it is now rare to find a Barn Swallow nest in a site that is not man-made.

Where do they breed and nest? Barn swallows usually breed between May and August. During the breeding season, Barn Swallows come to the ground to pick up mud and grass for nesting materials. Their mud nests are often tucked under the eaves of structures such as barns, stables, buildings, or under bridges. In North America, the barn swallow breeds from Alaska east to Newfoundland, Canada and south to California and northern Florida.

Where do they migrate? Yes, they are seasonal travelers. The Barn Swallow is a “neotropical migrant". They leave their breeding range in the fall and travel south to winter in Mexico, Central America, and South America. Barn Swallows fly from these North American breeding grounds such as Illinois by late June or early July. They return here as early as March or April. They migrate in flocks and mostly by day. Barn Swallows are long distance migrants, traveling as many as 600 miles in a day.

What is their conservation status? There is low concern. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Barn Swallow has seen slight declines in populations. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 190 million.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Barn Swallows sing a “twitter-warble” song during courtship with a long series of continuous warbling sounds followed by up to a dozen rapid, mechanical-sounding whirrs. The song can last 4–20 seconds and is often introduced and followed by a chirp. Barn Swallows give a “cheep” call when threatened. And when predators approach too close to their nest, a “churee” whistle will send adults diving at the threat. Here is a link to the sounds of the Barn Swallow.

Interesting Facts About the Barn Swallow:

  • The Barn Swallow is the most abundant and widely distributed swallow species in the world.

  • During the breeding season keep an eye on mud puddles, as Barn Swallows come to the ground to pick up mud and grass for nesting materials.

  • Its Latin name "Hirundo Rustica"  means "rural swallow" and describes the rural habitats where it resides.

  • Barn Swallows once nested in caves throughout North America, but now build their nests almost exclusively on human-made structures.

  • Although the killing of egrets is often cited for inspiring the U.S. conservation movement, it was the millinery (hat-making) trade’s impact on Barn Swallows that prompted naturalist George Bird Grinnell’s 1886 Forest & Stream editorial decrying the waste of bird life. His essay led to the founding of the first Audubon Society.

  • According to legend, the Barn Swallow got its forked tail because it stole fire from the gods to bring to people. An angry deity hurled a firebrand at the swallow, singeing away its middle tail feathers.

For more information on the Barn Swallow and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society and National Geographic.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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