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Barn Swallow

From Opus

Subspecies  H. r. erythrogasterPhoto by IanFGreatham Creek, Seaton Carew, Cleveland, UK
Subspecies H. r. erythrogaster
Photo by IanF
Greatham Creek, Seaton Carew, Cleveland, UK
Hirundo rustica


[edit] Identification

17-19cm (6¾-7½)
. Glossy blue-black above and on breast band. Forehead, chin and throat reddish-chestnut. Remainder of underparts creamy-white. The deeply forked tail is spotted white at the base.

Sexes alike, but female has shorter and broader tail streamers.

Juvenile: has shorter, blunt tail streamers, browner upperparts and a brownish-pink forehead and throat.

Subspecies H. r. erythrogaster male Photo by bobsofpa Middle Creek WMA, Pennsylvania, USA, May 2010
Subspecies H. r. erythrogaster male
Photo by bobsofpa
Middle Creek WMA, Pennsylvania, USA, May 2010

Variation: the extent of the breast band, the maximum length of the tail streamers, and the underside color varies among populations.

[edit] Similar Species

Juvenile Swallow lacks the white rump of a Northern House Martin. In other parts of the world see Pacific Swallow and Welcome Swallow.

Common Swifts appear all dark and very sickle or boomerang-shaped and are comparatively large compared to the three hirundines below.

Barn Swallows are mostly pale from below and all dark above, with a dark (and reddish) throat/head and long, dark tail streamers.

House Martin are very white below and dark from above, with much shorter, dark tail, and a prominent white rump

Sand Martin are pale from below with a dark throat band, but noticeably brown-coloured.

There is a difference in the flying style too: House martin flight is more fluttery than a Barn Swallow which is faster, more direct and swooping, while Sand Martin are more fluttery still, and Common Swift are very fast and look somewhat stiff-winged.

Finally, the calls are all quite distinct: swift calls are quite loud and screeching, while swallows are more twittery and varied. House martin and Sand Martin calls are quite similar, less sustained than swallows possibly, and more chirpy and clipped, with sand martin being slightly scratchier or hoarse sounding.

[edit] Distribution

Subspecies H. r. erythrogaster female Photo by bobsofpa Port Aransas, Texas, USA, April 2010
Subspecies H. r. erythrogaster female
Photo by bobsofpa
Port Aransas, Texas, USA, April 2010

Breeds mainly in the northern half of the globe. Abundant and widespread throughout the western Palearctic. Breeds from the British Isles, France and Iberia east to the Urals and Caspian. In the north found to 70° N on the Norwegian coast and breeds north to the White Sea in Russia. Breeds on the north Mediterranean coast and most islands, in Turkey and the Caucasus, across North-West Africa and in the Nile valley but only locally in the Middle East.

In the New World it breeds throughout most of North America and winters in Central and South America. A disjunct population has recently started breeding in Argentina.

Small numbers regularly winter in southern Spain and North-West Africa but the majority of European birds winter in sub-Saharan Africa leaving breeding areas August-October and returning March-May. Middle Eastern and Egyptian birds are largely resident.

Vagrant north to Iceland (has bred), Faroe Islands (may breed annually), Svalbard, Bear Island and Jan Mayen, also on the Azores, these birds may have originated in North America.

[edit] Taxonomy

Nominate subspeciesPhoto by Nigel KiteleyMinsmere, UK, August 2008
Nominate subspecies
Photo by Nigel Kiteley
Minsmere, UK, August 2008

Seven different subspecies[1] occur, with typical birds of several of these separable in the field.

In Western Palearctic, nominate race is found over most of range, replaced by transitiva in southern Turkey, Syria and Lebanon, Israel and western Jordan, with pinkish to orange underparts and savignii in Egypt with dark red-brown underparts, both slightly larger than nominate.
In Asia, tytleri belongs to the same group as the above, while further east, the gutturalis group includes the mandschurica subspecies; together these two subspecies breeds from eastern Himalayas to eastern Asia and migrates to southeast Asia and Australasia in winter.
North American race erythrogaster with reduced breast-band and rusty-buff underparts has possibly been recorded as a vagrant in Iceland.

[edit] Habitat

Mainly occurs on farmland with abundant flying insects attracted by livestock and nesting sites in farm buildings. Often breeds in rural villages but rarely in large towns. Highly gregarious on passage and frequently feeds over large water bodies.

Nominate subspecies immaturePhoto by Alok TewariUttrakhand Himalayas, Alt. 5500 ft. above MSL, India, April-2016
Nominate subspecies immature
Photo by Alok Tewari
Uttrakhand Himalayas, Alt. 5500 ft. above MSL, India, April-2016

[edit] Behaviour

Rarely perches in trees, but very inclined to sit on telegraph wires.
Gregarious, often seen feeding in the company of Martins and Swifts.

[edit] Flight

Fast, with clipped wing beats, often low to the ground. Will fly across a water surface and drink whilst on the move.

[edit] Breeding

Barn Swallows have been studied extensively for what influences sexual selection etc. In short, in Europe a male with long tail streamers seems to do well. In North America, the colour of the underparts, especially the breast area, seems to be important for the breeding success of a male, with dark colour being advantagous (length of tail streamers still probably is important).

It nests inside buildings such as barns and stables, or under bridges and wharves. Usually the female builds the cup-shaped nest, placed on a beam or against a suitable vertical projection. It is made from mud pellets and lined with grasses, feathers or other soft materials. 4-5 reddish-spotted white eggs are laid, and are incubated by the female for 14-19 days; the young fledge 18-23 days later.

[edit] Diet

The diet consists almost entirely of flying insects.

[edit] Vocalisation

Listen in an external program

[edit] In Culture

An old country lore states "Swallows flying high - going to be dry".

[edit] References

  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2016. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2016, with updates to August 2016. Downloaded from
  2. Avibase
  3. Collins Pocket Guide to British Birds 1966
  4. Collins Field Guide 5th Edition
  5. Collins Bird Guide ISBN 0 00 219728 6
  6. BF Member observations

[edit] External Links


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