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Barn Swallow

Hirundo rustica

Barn swallows visit the Chesapeake Bay region from spring through early autumn. (Maggie Smith/Flickr)
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Barn swallows visit the Chesapeake Bay region from spring through early autumn. (Maggie Smith/Flickr)

The barn swallow is a small, agile bird that visits open waters, wetlands and farm fields throughout the Chesapeake Bay region from spring through autumn.

Appearance:

  • Steely, metallic blue back, wings and tail
  • Creamy beige underparts
  • Light brown or rust-colored throat and forehead
  • Females and juveniles are less boldly colored than adult males
  • Deeply forked tail with long outer feathers
  • Long, pointed wings
  • Grows 5.5-7 inches long with a wingspan of 12.5-13.5 inches

Habitat:

  • Lives over any type of open area, including open water, marshes, pastures and grain fields
  • Large flocks often seen perched on electrical wires and other high structures

Range:

  • Common throughout the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers beginning in early April, when it migrates from its southern wintering grounds
  • Leaves the Bay region in late summer and early autumn

Feeding:

  • Eats insects such as moths, flies, crickets, beetles and grasshoppers
  • Often seen trailing behind farm tractors, feeding on plowed-up insects
  • Uses its large, gaping mouth to catch insects while in flight
  • Skims the surface of the water to drink while flying

Predators:

  • Nestlings have many predators, including gulls, rats, cats, squirrels and raccoons
  • Hawks, owls and falcons prey upon adults

Flight:

  • An agile flyer that can quickly dive and turn while in the air
  • Often flies low over the water or land in search of insects

Voice:

  • Sings a variety of calls, both as an individual and as a group
  • Also makes a clicking noise by snapping its jaws together
Barn Swallow courtesy of Pamela C. Rasmussen, Avian Vocalizations Center

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Pairs form in spring, once the birds return to their breeding grounds
  • Builds a nest of mud and plant materials, securely fastened to the wall of a barn or shed or the underside of a pier or bridge
  • Barn swallows can’t carry mud in their tiny claws. So males scoop up mud in their roomy beaks and bring it back to the female.

  • The female lays an average of four brown-speckled white eggs, which she incubates for approximately two weeks
  • After hatching, the parents feed the nestlings. They often chirp while begging for food.

  • Young begin flying three weeks later
  • Usually lives about four years, but can live as long as eight years

Other Facts:

  • The most abundant and widely distributed swallow species in the world

Sources and Additional Information:




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