Barn Swallow

Hirundo rustica

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Photo of a barn swallow in flight.
Swallows are amazingly agile fliers and catch flying insects on the wing.
Noppadol Paothong
Family

Hirundinidae (swallows) in the order Passeriformes

Description

Adult upperparts are dark iridescent blue black, and the tail is long and forked, with white spots visible when the tail is spread during flight. Underparts are buff or cinnamon with a dark chestnut throat. The lighter belly is separated from the throat by a narrow blue-black band. The song is a long, twittering chatter with guttural sounds interspersed. Call notes are sharp kit-kit or svit-svit sounds.

Size

Length: 6¾ inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).

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Photo of an adult barn swallow perched on barbed wire.
Barn Swallow
Barn swallows are streamlined, agile fliers with forked tails. They build cup-shaped nests out of mud.

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Photo of an adult barn swallow.
Barn Swallow
Adult upperparts of barn swallows are dark iridescent blue black, and the tail is long and forked.

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Photo of an adult barn swallow calling.
Barn Swallow
The call notes of barn swallows are sharp kit-kit or svit-svit sounds.

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Photo of a juvenile barn swallow, perched.
Barn Swallow Juvenile
Juvenile barn swallows can be identified by their shorter tail feathers and by a generally paler coloration of the breast.

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Photo of two juvenile barn swallows, perched.
Barn Swallow Juveniles
In five months, young barn swallows progress from egg to juveniles strong enough to fly to Central or South America.

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Photo of a barn swallow standing on ground holding dried grass in its bill.
Barn Swallow With Nesting Material
Barn swallows build cup-shaped nests out of mud mixed with dried grasses.

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Photo of two young barn swallows looking out of their nest.
Barn Swallow Young In Nest
Barn swallows almost always build their nests on human-built structures. They are a familiar sight on farms.

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Photo of a barn swallow visiting its young in the nest.
Barn Swallow And Young In Nest
Barn swallows affix their nests to a slight ledge or rough surface in sheltered places on a wall or concrete bridge.

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Photo of a barn swallow visiting its begging young in the nest.
Barn Swallow And Young In Nest
Swallows help control populations of the many flying insects they eat.
Habitat and conservation

Usually seen foraging for flying insects in open areas near farm buildings, bridges, culverts, or other open-structure buildings, and over water. They are sometimes seen with other swallow species in mixed flocks. Their cup-shaped mud nests are attached to a rough wooded beam or concrete structure. Barn swallows almost always build their nests on human-built structures, though originally they built them in caves and under overhanging cliffs.

Foods

Swallows are amazingly agile fliers and catch flying insects on the wing. They eat mostly flies, along with flying beetles, wasps, butterflies, and other relatively large insects. Their peak presence in our state from April through September coincides with the time when insects are abundant and available for them to eat and to feed to their young.

image Barn Swallow Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Status

Common summer resident nearly throughout North America. They are distributed worldwide. In the Old World, barn swallows migrate seasonally between Eurasia and Africa.

Life cycle

Swallows arrive in Missouri in March and April and begin building nests. Like cliff swallows, barn swallows build cup-shaped nests from mud they collect from muddy pools or stream banks, adhering it to the side of a rough wall under a sheltering overhang, lining the nests with plant materials and feathers. Barn swallows usually have two broods. In July and August, swallows gather in ever-larger flocks; by the end of October, they have left for Central and South America.

Human connections

People not fond of insects can appreciate their insectivorous diet. They are sometimes attracted to ground-up eggshells or other shell-based grit provided on an open platform. Some people attract them with special nest boxes or by providing a welcoming barn with an open window or door.

Ecosystem connections

Swallows help control populations of the many flying insects they eat. Imagine the impact they have in a wetland area in August, when a hundred thousand or more individuals of all six species have joined into one large group!