Species: Barn Swallow
The Barn Swallow can usually be spotted flying and foraging over bodies of water, meadows, grasslands and farmland. They often build their nests in man-made structures such as barns, hence their name.
In Canada, it is estimated that there are 2.45 million breeding pairs of these small birds and 4.9 million individuals. This may seem like they have a very large and stable population, however, based on surveys conducted from 1970 to 2009, there was a significant decline of 3.6%/year in their Canadian population. Over 40 years, that’s a decline of 76%! A Barn Swallow’s average lifespan is around 4 years old, however, they have been known to live as long as 8 years.
They can be found in all provinces across Canada during the spring and summer months. This is where the Barn Swallow chooses to breed and nest. During this time, they will return to previously built mud nests and nest in small colonies. Females will lay 3 to 5 eggs and are able to lay two broods a season. They are migrant birds, so when fall and winter approach, Barn Swallows will fly south to over-winter in Central and South America.
The reason for their decline in population numbers isn’t completely clear, however they have been experiencing a loss in both nesting and foraging sites due to the switch from conventional to modern farming techniques. Their main food source, insects, have been declining in diversity and population and during the early breeding season, unpredictable cold snaps have been affecting nests. The Barn Swallow is now determined to be threatened.
Identification – what to look for:
- Long wings that taper to a point
- Small head with short beak
- Dark blue back, wings and tail
- Creamy white underbelly
- Rusty-red throat and forehead
- White tuft of feathers at the base of the wing
- Deeply forked tail feathers
- Females and males look very similar, but the female is less brightly coloured and has shorter tail forks
- Dark brownish blue
- Underbelly and face is a pale cinnamon colour
Where are they found?
- They breed and nest in all provinces across Canada
- They migrate to Central and South America for the winter
- They can be seen perched on telephone wires or fencing near foraging grounds
- They can be spotted near muddy areas during the breeding seasons collecting mud for their nests
- They prefer to nest in human-built structures such as barns, bridges and under eavestroughs
- The Barn Swallow is the most widespread swallow species in the world. They are found on every single continent, except for Antarctica!
- They used to nest primarily in caves and cliff edges until humans began building larger, permanent structures. Now the nest almost exclusively in human-built structures
- Building a nest made of mud takes up a lot of time! So to save time and energy, they reuse their nests year after year
- They will fly in a zig-zag pattern while hunting and can fly 11 metres per second
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: More Identification Information
COSEWIC Status Report (PDF): Barn Swallow
Canadian Wildlife Federation: Barn Swallow
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