Barn Swallow
Overview
The Barn Swallow is the most widespread species of swallow
Swallow
The swallows and martins are a group of passerine birds in the family Hirundinidae which are characterised by their adaptation to aerial feeding...

 in the world. It is a distinctive passerine
Passerine
A passerine is a bird of the order Passeriformes, which includes more than half of all bird species. Sometimes known as perching birds or, less accurately, as songbirds, the passerines form one of the most diverse terrestrial vertebrate orders: with over 5,000 identified species, it has roughly...

 bird
Bird
Birds are feathered, winged, bipedal, endothermic , egg-laying, vertebrate animals. Around 10,000 living species and 188 families makes them the most speciose class of tetrapod vertebrates. They inhabit ecosystems across the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Extant birds range in size from...

 with blue upperparts, a long, deeply forked tail
Tail
The tail is the section at the rear end of an animal's body; in general, the term refers to a distinct, flexible appendage to the torso. It is the part of the body that corresponds roughly to the sacrum and coccyx in mammals, reptiles, and birds...

 and curved, pointed wings. It is found in Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

, Asia
Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

, Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

 and the Americas
Americas
The Americas, or America , are lands in the Western hemisphere, also known as the New World. In English, the plural form the Americas is often used to refer to the landmasses of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions, while the singular form America is primarily...

. In Anglophone
English-speaking world
The English-speaking world consists of those countries or regions that use the English language to one degree or another. For more information, please see:Lists:* List of countries by English-speaking population...

 Europe it is just called the Swallow; in Northern Europe
Northern Europe
Northern Europe is the northern part or region of Europe. Northern Europe typically refers to the seven countries in the northern part of the European subcontinent which includes Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Finland and Sweden...

 it is the only common species called a "swallow" rather than a "martin".

There are six subspecies of Barn Swallow, which breed across the Northern Hemisphere
Northern Hemisphere
The Northern Hemisphere is the half of a planet that is north of its equator—the word hemisphere literally means “half sphere”. It is also that half of the celestial sphere north of the celestial equator...

.
Encyclopedia
The Barn Swallow is the most widespread species of swallow
Swallow
The swallows and martins are a group of passerine birds in the family Hirundinidae which are characterised by their adaptation to aerial feeding...

 in the world. It is a distinctive passerine
Passerine
A passerine is a bird of the order Passeriformes, which includes more than half of all bird species. Sometimes known as perching birds or, less accurately, as songbirds, the passerines form one of the most diverse terrestrial vertebrate orders: with over 5,000 identified species, it has roughly...

 bird
Bird
Birds are feathered, winged, bipedal, endothermic , egg-laying, vertebrate animals. Around 10,000 living species and 188 families makes them the most speciose class of tetrapod vertebrates. They inhabit ecosystems across the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Extant birds range in size from...

 with blue upperparts, a long, deeply forked tail
Tail
The tail is the section at the rear end of an animal's body; in general, the term refers to a distinct, flexible appendage to the torso. It is the part of the body that corresponds roughly to the sacrum and coccyx in mammals, reptiles, and birds...

 and curved, pointed wings. It is found in Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

, Asia
Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

, Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

 and the Americas
Americas
The Americas, or America , are lands in the Western hemisphere, also known as the New World. In English, the plural form the Americas is often used to refer to the landmasses of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions, while the singular form America is primarily...

. In Anglophone
English-speaking world
The English-speaking world consists of those countries or regions that use the English language to one degree or another. For more information, please see:Lists:* List of countries by English-speaking population...

 Europe it is just called the Swallow; in Northern Europe
Northern Europe
Northern Europe is the northern part or region of Europe. Northern Europe typically refers to the seven countries in the northern part of the European subcontinent which includes Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Finland and Sweden...

 it is the only common species called a "swallow" rather than a "martin".

There are six subspecies of Barn Swallow, which breed across the Northern Hemisphere
Northern Hemisphere
The Northern Hemisphere is the half of a planet that is north of its equator—the word hemisphere literally means “half sphere”. It is also that half of the celestial sphere north of the celestial equator...

. Four are strongly migratory
Bird migration
Bird migration is the regular seasonal journey undertaken by many species of birds. Bird movements include those made in response to changes in food availability, habitat or weather. Sometimes, journeys are not termed "true migration" because they are irregular or in only one direction...

, and their wintering grounds cover much of the Southern Hemisphere
Southern Hemisphere
The Southern Hemisphere is the part of Earth that lies south of the equator. The word hemisphere literally means 'half ball' or "half sphere"...

 as far south as central Argentina
Argentina
Argentina , officially the Argentine Republic , is the second largest country in South America by land area, after Brazil. It is constituted as a federation of 23 provinces and an autonomous city, Buenos Aires...

, the Cape Province
Cape Province
The Province of the Cape of Good Hope was a province in the Union of South Africa and subsequently the Republic of South Africa...

 of South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

, and northern Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

. Its huge range means that the Barn Swallow is not endangered, although there may be local population declines due to specific threats, such as the construction of an international airport near Durban
Durban
Durban is the largest city in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal and the third largest city in South Africa. It forms part of the eThekwini metropolitan municipality. Durban is famous for being the busiest port in South Africa. It is also seen as one of the major centres of tourism...

.

The Barn Swallow is a bird of open country which normally uses man-made structures to breed and consequently has spread with human expansion. It builds a cup nest
Bird nest
A bird nest is the spot in which a bird lays and incubates its eggs and raises its young. Although the term popularly refers to a specific structure made by the bird itself—such as the grassy cup nest of the American Robin or Eurasian Blackbird, or the elaborately woven hanging nest of the...

 from mud pellets in barns or similar structures and feeds on insect
Insect
Insects are a class of living creatures within the arthropods that have a chitinous exoskeleton, a three-part body , three pairs of jointed legs, compound eyes, and two antennae...

s caught in flight. This species lives in close association with humans, and its insect-eating habits mean that it is tolerated by man; this acceptance was reinforced in the past by superstitions regarding the bird and its nest. There are frequent cultural references to the Barn Swallow in literary and religious works due to both its living in close proximity to humans and its conspicuous annual migration. The Barn Swallow is the national bird of Estonia
Estonia
Estonia , officially the Republic of Estonia , is a state in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia , and to the east by Lake Peipsi and the Russian Federation . Across the Baltic Sea lies...

.

Description

The adult male Barn Swallow of the nominate subspecies H. r. rustica is 17–19 cm (6.7–7.5 in) long including 2–7 cm (0.8–2.8 in) of elongated outer tail feathers. It has a wingspan of 32–34.5 cm (12.6–13.6 in) and weighs 16–22 g (0.56–0.78 oz). It has steel blue upperparts and a rufous forehead, chin and throat, which are separated from the off-white underparts by a broad dark blue breast band. The outer tail feathers are elongated, giving the distinctive deeply forked "swallow tail." There is a line of white spots across the outer end of the upper tail.

The female is similar in appearance to the male, but the tail streamers are shorter, the blue of the upperparts and breast band is less glossy, and the underparts more pale. The juvenile is browner and has a paler rufous face and whiter underparts. It also lacks the long tail streamers of the adult.

The song of the Barn Swallow is a cheerful warble, often ending with su-seer with the second note higher than the first but falling in pitch. Calls include witt or witt-witt and a loud splee-plink when excited. The alarm call
Alarm call
In the field of animal communication, an alarm signal is an antipredator adaptation referring to various signals emitted by social animals in response to danger. Many primates and birds have elaborate alarm calls for warning conspecifics of approaching predators. For example, the characteristic...

s include a sharp siflitt for predators like cat
Cat
The cat , also known as the domestic cat or housecat to distinguish it from other felids and felines, is a small, usually furry, domesticated, carnivorous mammal that is valued by humans for its companionship and for its ability to hunt vermin and household pests...

s and a flitt-flitt for birds of prey
Bird of prey
Birds of prey are birds that hunt for food primarily on the wing, using their keen senses, especially vision. They are defined as birds that primarily hunt vertebrates, including other birds. Their talons and beaks tend to be relatively large, powerful and adapted for tearing and/or piercing flesh....

 like the Hobby
Hobby (bird)
A hobby is a fairly small, very swift falcon with long, narrow wings. There are four birds called hobby, and some others which, although termed falcon, are very similar. All specialise in being superb aerialists...

. This species is fairly quiet on the wintering grounds.

The distinctive combination of a red face and blue breast band render the adult Barn Swallow easy to distinguish from the African Hirundo species and from the Welcome Swallow
Welcome Swallow
The Welcome Swallow is a small passerine bird in the swallow family.It is a species native to Australia and nearby islands, but not until recently to New Zealand, which has been colonised in the last half century...

 (Hirundo neoxena) with which its range overlaps in Australasia
Australasia
Australasia is a region of Oceania comprising Australia, New Zealand, the island of New Guinea, and neighbouring islands in the Pacific Ocean. The term was coined by Charles de Brosses in Histoire des navigations aux terres australes...

. In Africa the short tail streamers of the juvenile Barn Swallow invite confusion with juvenile Red-chested Swallow
Red-chested Swallow
The Red-chested Swallow is a small non-migratory passerine bird found in Africa in West Africa, the Congo basin and Ethiopia. It has a long, deeply forked tail and curved, pointed wings....

 (Hirundo lucida), but the latter has a narrower breast band and more white in the tail.

Taxonomy

The Barn Swallow was described by Linnaeus in his Systema Naturae
Systema Naturae
The book was one of the major works of the Swedish botanist, zoologist and physician Carolus Linnaeus. The first edition was published in 1735...

in 1758 as Hirundo rustica, characterised as H. rectricibus, exceptis duabus intermediis, macula alba notatîs. Hirundo is the Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 word for "swallow"; rusticus means "of the country." This species is the only one of that genus to have a range extending into the Americas
Americas
The Americas, or America , are lands in the Western hemisphere, also known as the New World. In English, the plural form the Americas is often used to refer to the landmasses of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions, while the singular form America is primarily...

, with the majority of Hirundo species being native to Africa. This genus of blue-backed swallows is sometimes called the "barn swallows."

The Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary
The Oxford English Dictionary , published by the Oxford University Press, is the self-styled premier dictionary of the English language. Two fully bound print editions of the OED have been published under its current name, in 1928 and 1989. The first edition was published in twelve volumes , and...

dates the English common name
Common name
A common name of a taxon or organism is a name in general use within a community; it is often contrasted with the scientific name for the same organism...

 "barn swallow" to 1851, though an earlier instance of the collocation in an English-language context is in Gilbert White's popular book The Natural History of Selborne
The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne
The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, or just The Natural History of Selborne is a book by pioneering English naturalist and ornithologist Gilbert White first published in 1789...

, originally published in 1789:

The swallow, though called the chimney-swallow, by no means builds altogether in chimnies [sic], but often within barns and out-houses against the rafters... In Sweden she builds in barns, and is called ladu swala, the barn-swallow.

This suggests that the English name may be a calque
Calque
In linguistics, a calque or loan translation is a word or phrase borrowed from another language by literal, word-for-word or root-for-root translation.-Calque:...

 on the Swedish term.

There are few taxonomic
Taxonomy
Taxonomy is the science of identifying and naming species, and arranging them into a classification. The field of taxonomy, sometimes referred to as "biological taxonomy", revolves around the description and use of taxonomic units, known as taxa...

 problems within the genus, but the Red-chested Swallow—a resident of West Africa
West Africa
West Africa or Western Africa is the westernmost region of the African continent. Geopolitically, the UN definition of Western Africa includes the following 16 countries and an area of approximately 5 million square km:-Flags of West Africa:...

, the Congo basin
Congo River
The Congo River is a river in Africa, and is the deepest river in the world, with measured depths in excess of . It is the second largest river in the world by volume of water discharged, though it has only one-fifth the volume of the world's largest river, the Amazon...

 and Ethiopia
Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

—was formerly treated as a subspecies of Barn Swallow. The Red-chested Swallow is slightly smaller than its migratory relative, has a narrower blue breast-band, and the adult has shorter tail streamers. In flight
Bird flight
Flight is the main mode of locomotion used by most of the world's bird species. Flight assists birds while feeding, breeding and avoiding predators....

, it also looks paler underneath than Barn Swallow.

Subspecies

Six subspecies of Barn Swallow are generally recognized. In eastern Asia, a number of additional or alternative forms have been proposed, including saturata by Robert Ridgway in 1883, kamtschatica by Benedykt Dybowski in 1883, ambigua by Erwin Stresemann
Erwin Stresemann
Erwin Stresemann was a German naturalist and ornithologist.Stresemann was one of the outstanding ornithologists of the 20th century...

 and mandschurica by Wilhelm Meise
Wilhelm Meise
Wilhelm Meise was a German ornithologist. He studied at the University of Berlin from 1924-1928, where he did his Ph.D. dissertation on the distribution of the Carrion Crow and the Hooded Crow, and hybridization between them under the supervision of Professor Erwin Stresemann, ....

 in 1934. Given the uncertainties over the validity of these forms,
this article follows the treatment of Turner and Rose.
  • H. r. rustica, the nominate European subspecies, breeds in Europe and Asia, as far north as the Arctic Circle
    Arctic Circle
    The Arctic Circle is one of the five major circles of latitude that mark maps of the Earth. For Epoch 2011, it is the parallel of latitude that runs north of the Equator....

    , south to North Africa
    North Africa
    North Africa or Northern Africa is the northernmost region of the African continent, linked by the Sahara to Sub-Saharan Africa. Geopolitically, the United Nations definition of Northern Africa includes eight countries or territories; Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia, and...

    , the Middle East
    Middle East
    The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

     and Sikkim
    Sikkim
    Sikkim is a landlocked Indian state nestled in the Himalayan mountains...

    , and east to the Yenisei River
    Yenisei River
    Yenisei , also written as Yenisey, is the largest river system flowing to the Arctic Ocean. It is the central of the three great Siberian rivers that flow into the Arctic Ocean...

    . It migrates on a broad front to winter in Africa, Arabia, and the Indian subcontinent
    Indian subcontinent
    The Indian subcontinent, also Indian Subcontinent, Indo-Pak Subcontinent or South Asian Subcontinent is a region of the Asian continent on the Indian tectonic plate from the Hindu Kush or Hindu Koh, Himalayas and including the Kuen Lun and Karakoram ranges, forming a land mass which extends...

    . The Barn Swallows wintering in southern Africa are from across Eurasia to at least 91°E, and have been recorded as covering up to 11660 kilometres (7,245.2 mi) on their annual migration.

  • H. r. transitiva was described by Ernst Hartert
    Ernst Hartert
    Ernst Johann Otto Hartert was a German ornithologist. Hartert was born in Hamburg. He was employed by Lionel Walter Rothschild as ornithological curator of his private museum at Tring from 1892 to 1929....

     in 1910. It breeds in the Middle East from southern Turkey
    Turkey
    Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

     to Israel
    Israel
    The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

     and is partially resident, though some birds winter in East Africa. It has orange red underparts and a broken breast band.

  • H. r. savignii, the resident Egypt
    Egypt
    Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

    ian subspecies, was described by James Stephens
    James Francis Stephens
    James Francis Stephens was an English entomologist.-Biography:Stephens was born in Shoreham-by-Sea and studied at Christ's Hospital.He was employed in the Admiralty office, Somerset House, from 1807 to 1845...

     in 1817 and named for French
    France
    The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

     zoologist
    Zoology
    Zoology |zoölogy]]), is the branch of biology that relates to the animal kingdom, including the structure, embryology, evolution, classification, habits, and distribution of all animals, both living and extinct...

     Marie Jules César Savigny
    Marie Jules César Savigny
    Marie Jules César Lelorgne de Savigny was a French zoologist.Savigny was born at Provins. In 1798 he travelled to Egypt with the Emperor Napoleon as part of the French scientific expedition to that country, and contributed to the publication of the findings of the expedition in 1809...

    . It resembles transitiva, which also has orange-red underparts, but savignii has a complete broad breast band and deeper red hue to the underparts.

  • H. r. gutturalis, described by Giovanni Antonio Scopoli
    Giovanni Antonio Scopoli
    Giovanni Antonio Scopoli was an Italian physician and naturalist.-Biography:...

     in 1786, has whitish underparts and a broken breast band. Breast chestnut and lower underparts more pink-buff. The populations that breed in the central and eastern Himalayas
    Himalayas
    The Himalaya Range or Himalaya Mountains Sanskrit: Devanagari: हिमालय, literally "abode of snow"), usually called the Himalayas or Himalaya for short, is a mountain range in Asia, separating the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau...

     have been included in this subspecies, although the primary breeding range is Japan
    Japan
    Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

     and Korea
    Korea
    Korea ) is an East Asian geographic region that is currently divided into two separate sovereign states — North Korea and South Korea. Located on the Korean Peninsula, Korea is bordered by the People's Republic of China to the northwest, Russia to the northeast, and is separated from Japan to the...

    . The east Asian breeders winter across tropical Asia from India and Sri Lanka
    Sri Lanka
    Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

     east to Indonesia
    Indonesia
    Indonesia , officially the Republic of Indonesia , is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Indonesia is an archipelago comprising approximately 13,000 islands. It has 33 provinces with over 238 million people, and is the world's fourth most populous country. Indonesia is a republic, with an...

     and New Guinea
    New Guinea
    New Guinea is the world's second largest island, after Greenland, covering a land area of 786,000 km2. Located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, it lies geographically to the east of the Malay Archipelago, with which it is sometimes included as part of a greater Indo-Australian Archipelago...

    . Increasing numbers are wintering in Australia. It hybridises with H. r. tytleri in the Amur River area. It is thought that the two eastern Asia forms were once geographically separate, but the nest sites provided by expanding human habitation allowed the ranges to overlap. H. r. gutturalis is a vagrant to Alaska
    Alaska
    Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

     and Washington, but is easily distinguished from the North American breeding subspecies, H. r. erythrogaster, by the latter's reddish underparts.

  • H. r. tytleri, first described by Thomas Jerdon
    Thomas C. Jerdon
    Thomas Caverhill Jerdon was a British physician, zoologist and botanist. He is best remembered for his pioneering works on the ornithology of India...

     in 1864, and named for British soldier, naturalist and photographer Robert Christopher Tytler
    Robert Christopher Tytler
    Robert Christopher Tytler was a British soldier, naturalist and photographer. His second wife Harriet is well known for her work in documenting the monuments of Delhi and for her notes at the time of the 1857 revolt in India...

    , has deep orange-red underparts and an incomplete breast band. The tail is also longer. It breeds in central Siberia
    Siberia
    Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

     south to northern Mongolia
    Mongolia
    Mongolia is a landlocked country in East and Central Asia. It is bordered by Russia to the north and China to the south, east and west. Although Mongolia does not share a border with Kazakhstan, its western-most point is only from Kazakhstan's eastern tip. Ulan Bator, the capital and largest...

     and winters from eastern Bengal
    Bengal
    Bengal is a historical and geographical region in the northeast region of the Indian Subcontinent at the apex of the Bay of Bengal. Today, it is mainly divided between the sovereign land of People's Republic of Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal, although some regions of the previous...

     east to Thailand
    Thailand
    Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...

     and Malaysia.

  • The North America
    North America
    North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

    n subspecies H. r. erythrogaster, described by Pieter Boddaert
    Pieter Boddaert
    Pieter Boddaert was a Dutch physician and naturalist.Boddaert was the son of a Middelburg jurist and poet by the same name . Pieter Jr. obtained his M.D. at the University of Utrecht in 1764 and there became a lecturer on natural history. Fourteen letters survive of his correspondence with Carl...

     in 1783, differs from the European subspecies in having redder underparts and a narrower, often incomplete, blue breast band. It breeds throughout North America, from Alaska
    Alaska
    Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

     to southern Mexico
    Mexico
    The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

    , and migrates to the Lesser Antilles
    Lesser Antilles
    The Lesser Antilles are a long, partly volcanic island arc in the Western Hemisphere. Most of its islands form the eastern boundary of the Caribbean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean, with the remainder located in the southern Caribbean just north of South America...

    , Costa Rica
    Costa Rica
    Costa Rica , officially the Republic of Costa Rica is a multilingual, multiethnic and multicultural country in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the southeast, the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east....

    , Panama
    Panama
    Panama , officially the Republic of Panama , is the southernmost country of Central America. Situated on the isthmus connecting North and South America, it is bordered by Costa Rica to the northwest, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The...

     and South America
    South America
    South America is a continent situated in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. The continent is also considered a subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east...

     to winter. A few may winter in the southernmost parts of the breeding range. This subspecies funnels through Central America
    Central America
    Central America is the central geographic region of the Americas. It is the southernmost, isthmian portion of the North American continent, which connects with South America on the southeast. When considered part of the unified continental model, it is considered a subcontinent...

     on a narrow front and is therefore abundant on passage in the lowlands of both coasts.


Unexpectedly, DNA
DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms . The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes, but other DNA sequences have structural purposes, or are involved in...

 analyses show that Barn Swallows from North America colonised the Baikal
Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal is the world's oldest at 30 million years old and deepest lake with an average depth of 744.4 metres.Located in the south of the Russian region of Siberia, between Irkutsk Oblast to the northwest and the Buryat Republic to the southeast, it is the most voluminous freshwater lake in the...

 region of Siberia, a dispersal direction opposite to that for most changes in distribution between North America and Eurasia.

Behaviour

Habitat and range

The preferred habitat of the Barn Swallow is open country with low vegetation, such as pasture, meadows and farmland, preferably with nearby water. This swallow avoids heavily wooded or precipitous areas and densely built-up locations. The presence of accessible open structures such as barns, stables, or culverts to provide nesting sites, and exposed locations such as wires, roof ridges or bare branches for perching, are also important in the bird's selection of its breeding range.
It breeds in the Northern Hemisphere from sea level to typically 2,700 metres (8,900 ft), but to 3,000 metres (9,800 ft) in the Caucasus
Caucasus
The Caucasus, also Caucas or Caucasia , is a geopolitical region at the border of Europe and Asia, and situated between the Black and the Caspian sea...

 and North America, and it is absent only from deserts and the cold northernmost parts of the continents. Over much of its range, it avoids towns, and in Europe is replaced in urban areas by the House Martin
House Martin
The Common House Martin , sometimes called the Northern House Martin or, particularly in Europe, just House Martin, is a migratory passerine bird of the swallow family which breeds in Europe, north Africa and temperate Asia; and winters in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical Asia...

. However, in Honshū
Honshu
is the largest island of Japan. The nation's main island, it is south of Hokkaido across the Tsugaru Strait, north of Shikoku across the Inland Sea, and northeast of Kyushu across the Kanmon Strait...

, the Barn Swallow is a more urban bird, with the Red-rumped Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
The Red-rumped Swallow is a small passerine bird in the swallow family. It breeds in open hilly country of temperate southern Europe and Asia from Portugal and Spain to Japan, India and tropical Africa. The Indian and African birds are resident, but European and other Asian birds are migratory...

 (Cecropis daurica) replacing it as the rural species.

In winter, the Barn Swallow is cosmopolitan in its choice of habitat, avoiding only dense forests and deserts. It is most common in open, low vegetation habitats, such as savanna
Savanna
A savanna, or savannah, is a grassland ecosystem characterized by the trees being sufficiently small or widely spaced so that the canopy does not close. The open canopy allows sufficient light to reach the ground to support an unbroken herbaceous layer consisting primarily of C4 grasses.Some...

 and ranch land, and in Venezuela
Venezuela
Venezuela , officially called the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela , is a tropical country on the northern coast of South America. It borders Colombia to the west, Guyana to the east, and Brazil to the south...

, South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

 and Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago officially the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is an archipelagic state in the southern Caribbean, lying just off the coast of northeastern Venezuela and south of Grenada in the Lesser Antilles...

 it is described as being particularly attracted to burnt or harvested sugarcane
Sugarcane
Sugarcane refers to any of six to 37 species of tall perennial grasses of the genus Saccharum . Native to the warm temperate to tropical regions of South Asia, they have stout, jointed, fibrous stalks that are rich in sugar, and measure two to six metres tall...

 fields and the waste from the cane. In the absence of suitable roost sites, they may sometimes roost on wires where they are more exposed to predators. Individual birds tend to return to the same wintering locality each year and congregate from a large area to roost
Communal roosting
Communal roosting is practiced by birds when large flocks or colonies roost together usually in trees with several hundred on each.Several communal roosting trees can be located within densely populated cities nowadays where common birds like house sparrows and starlings etc...

 in reed beds. These roosts can be extremely large, one in Nigeria had an estimated 1.5 million birds. These roosts are thought to be a protection from predators, and the arrival of roosting birds is synchronised in order to overwhelm predators like African Hobbies
African Hobby
The African Hobby is a species of bird of prey in the Falconidae family.It is found in Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea,...

. The Barn Swallow has been recorded as breeding in the more temperate parts of its winter range, such as the mountains of Thailand
Thailand
Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...

 and in central Argentina.

Migration of Barn Swallows between Britain and South Africa was first established on 23 December 1912 when a bird that had been ringed by James Masefield at a nest in Staffordshire, was found in Natal. As would be expected for a long-distance migrant, this bird has occurred as a vagrant to such distant areas as Hawaii
Hawaii
Hawaii is the newest of the 50 U.S. states , and is the only U.S. state made up entirely of islands. It is the northernmost island group in Polynesia, occupying most of an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean, southwest of the continental United States, southeast of Japan, and northeast of...

, Bermuda
Bermuda
Bermuda is a British overseas territory in the North Atlantic Ocean. Located off the east coast of the United States, its nearest landmass is Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, about to the west-northwest. It is about south of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and northeast of Miami, Florida...

, Greenland
Greenland
Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physiographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe for...

, Tristan da Cunha
Tristan da Cunha
Tristan da Cunha is a remote volcanic group of islands in the south Atlantic Ocean and the main island of that group. It is the most remote inhabited archipelago in the world, lying from the nearest land, South Africa, and from South America...

 and the Falkland Islands
Falkland Islands
The Falkland Islands are an archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean, located about from the coast of mainland South America. The archipelago consists of East Falkland, West Falkland and 776 lesser islands. The capital, Stanley, is on East Falkland...

.

Feeding

The Barn Swallow is similar in its habits to other aerial insectivore
Insectivore
An insectivore is a type of carnivore with a diet that consists chiefly of insects and similar small creatures. An alternate term is entomophage, which also refers to the human practice of eating insects....

s, including other swallow species and the unrelated swift
Swift
The swifts are a family, Apodidae, of highly aerial birds. They are superficially similar to swallows, but are actually not closely related to passerine species at all; swifts are in the separate order Apodiformes, which they share with hummingbirds...

s. It is not a particularly fast flier, with a speed estimated at about 11 m/s
Metre per second
Metre per second is an SI derived unit of both speed and velocity , defined by distance in metres divided by time in seconds....

, up to 20 m/s
Metre per second
Metre per second is an SI derived unit of both speed and velocity , defined by distance in metres divided by time in seconds....

 and a wing beat rate of approximately 5, up to 7–9 times each second, but it has the manoeuvrability necessary to feed on flying insect
Insect
Insects are a class of living creatures within the arthropods that have a chitinous exoskeleton, a three-part body , three pairs of jointed legs, compound eyes, and two antennae...

s while airborne. It is often seen flying relatively low in open or semi-open areas.

The Barn Swallow typically feeds 7–8 metres (23–26 ft) above shallow water or the ground, often following animals, humans or farm machinery to catch disturbed insects, but it will occasionally pick prey items from the water surface, walls and plants. In the breeding areas, large flies
Fly
True flies are insects of the order Diptera . They possess a pair of wings on the mesothorax and a pair of halteres, derived from the hind wings, on the metathorax...

 make up around 70% of the diet, with aphid
Aphid
Aphids, also known as plant lice and in Britain and the Commonwealth as greenflies, blackflies or whiteflies, are small sap sucking insects, and members of the superfamily Aphidoidea. Aphids are among the most destructive insect pests on cultivated plants in temperate regions...

s also a significant component. However, in Europe, the Barn Swallow consumes fewer aphids than the House
House Martin
The Common House Martin , sometimes called the Northern House Martin or, particularly in Europe, just House Martin, is a migratory passerine bird of the swallow family which breeds in Europe, north Africa and temperate Asia; and winters in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical Asia...

 or Sand Martin
Sand Martin
The Sand Martin is a migratory passerine bird in the swallow family. It has a wide range in summer, embracing practically the whole of Europe and the Mediterranean countries, part of northern Asia and also North America. It winters in eastern and southern Africa, South America and South Asia...

s. On the wintering grounds, Hymenoptera
Hymenoptera
Hymenoptera is one of the largest orders of insects, comprising the sawflies, wasps, bees and ants. There are over 130,000 recognized species, with many more remaining to be described. The name refers to the heavy wings of the insects, and is derived from the Ancient Greek ὑμήν : membrane and...

, especially flying ant
Ant
Ants are social insects of the family Formicidae and, along with the related wasps and bees, belong to the order Hymenoptera. Ants evolved from wasp-like ancestors in the mid-Cretaceous period between 110 and 130 million years ago and diversified after the rise of flowering plants. More than...

s, are important food items. When egg-laying, Barn Swallows hunt in pairs, but will form often large flocks
Group size measures
Many animals, including humans, tend to live in groups, herds, flocks, bands, packs, shoals, or colonies of conspecific individuals. The size of these groups, as expressed by the number of participant individuals, is an important aspect of their social environment...

 otherwise.

Isotope
Isotope
Isotopes are variants of atoms of a particular chemical element, which have differing numbers of neutrons. Atoms of a particular element by definition must contain the same number of protons but may have a distinct number of neutrons which differs from atom to atom, without changing the designation...

 studies have shown that wintering populations may utilise different feeding habitats, with British breeders feeding mostly over grassland, whereas Swiss
Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

 birds utilised woodland more. Another study showed that a single population breeding in Denmark
Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

 actually wintered in two separate and different areas.

The Barn Swallow drinks by skimming low over lakes or rivers and scooping up water with its open mouth. This bird bathes in a similar fashion, dipping into the water for an instant while in flight.

Swallows gather in communal roosts after breeding, sometimes thousands strong. Reed beds are regularly favoured, with the birds swirling en masse before swooping low over the reeds. Reed beds are an important source of food prior to and whilst on migration; although the Barn Swallow is a diurnal migrant which can feed on the wing whilst it travels low over ground or water, the reed beds enable fat deposits to be established or replenished.

Breeding

The male Barn Swallow returns to the breeding grounds before the females and selects a nest site, which is then advertised to females with a circling flight and song. The breeding success of the male is related to the length of the tail streamers, with longer streamers being more attractive to the female. Males with longer tail feathers are generally longer-lived and more disease resistant, females thus gaining an indirect fitness benefit from this form of selection, since longer tail feathers indicate a genetically stronger individual which will produce offspring with enhanced vitality. Males in northern Europe have longer tails than those further south; whereas in Spain the male's tail streamers are only 5% longer than the female's, in Finland the difference is 20%. In Denmark, the average male tail length increased by 9% between 1984 and 2004, but it is possible that climatic changes may lead in the future to shorter tails if summers become hot and dry.

Males with long streamers also have larger white tail spots, and since feather-eating bird lice
Chewing louse
Mallophaga is a suborder of lice, known as chewing lice, biting lice or bird lice, containing more than 3000 species. They have paurometabolis or incomplete metamorphosis....

 prefer white feathers, large white tail spots without parasite
Parasitism
Parasitism is a type of symbiotic relationship between organisms of different species where one organism, the parasite, benefits at the expense of the other, the host. Traditionally parasite referred to organisms with lifestages that needed more than one host . These are now called macroparasites...

 damage again demonstrate breeding quality; there is a positive association between spot size and the number of offspring produced each season.
Both sexes defend the nest, but the male is particularly aggressive and territorial. Once established, pairs stay together to breed for life, but extra-pair copulation
Mating
In biology, mating is the pairing of opposite-sex or hermaphroditic organisms for copulation. In social animals, it also includes the raising of their offspring. Copulation is the union of the sex organs of two sexually reproducing animals for insemination and subsequent internal fertilization...

 is common, making this species gene
Gene
A gene is a molecular unit of heredity of a living organism. It is a name given to some stretches of DNA and RNA that code for a type of protein or for an RNA chain that has a function in the organism. Living beings depend on genes, as they specify all proteins and functional RNA chains...

tically polygamous, despite being socially monogamous
Monogamy
Monogamy /Gr. μονός+γάμος - one+marriage/ a form of marriage in which an individual has only one spouse at any one time. In current usage monogamy often refers to having one sexual partner irrespective of marriage or reproduction...

. Males guard females actively to avoid being cuckolded. Males may use deceptive alarm calls to disrupt extrapair copulation attempts toward their mates.

As its name implies, the Barn Swallow typically nests inside accessible buildings such as barns and stables, or under bridges and wharves. The neat cup-shaped nest is placed on a beam or against a suitable vertical projection. It is constructed by both sexes, although more often by the female, with mud pellets collected in their beaks and lined with grasses, feathers, algae or other soft materials. Barn Swallows may nest colonially where sufficient high-quality nest sites are available, and within a colony, each pair defends a territory around the nest which, for the European subspecies, is four to eight square metres (45 to 90 square feet) in size. Colony size
Group size measures
Many animals, including humans, tend to live in groups, herds, flocks, bands, packs, shoals, or colonies of conspecific individuals. The size of these groups, as expressed by the number of participant individuals, is an important aspect of their social environment...

 tends to be larger in North America.
In North America at least, Barn Swallows frequently engage in a mutualist relationship with Osprey
Osprey
The Osprey , sometimes known as the sea hawk or fish eagle, is a diurnal, fish-eating bird of prey. It is a large raptor, reaching more than in length and across the wings...

s. Barn Swallows will build their nest below an Osprey nest, receiving protection from other birds of prey which are repelled by the exclusively fish-eating Ospreys. The Ospreys are alerted to the presence of these predators by the alarm calls of the swallows.

Before man-made sites became common, the Barn Swallow nested on cliff faces or in caves, but this is now rare. The female lays two to seven, but typically four or five, reddish-spotted white eggs. The eggs are 20 x 14 millimetres (0.6 x 0.8 in) in size, and weigh 1.9 grammes (0.07 oz), of which 5 percent is shell. In Europe, the female does almost all the incubation
Avian incubation
Incubation refers to the process by which certain oviparous animals hatch their eggs, and to the development of the embryo within the egg. The most vital factor of incubation is the constant temperature required for its development over a specific period. Especially in domestic fowl, the act of...

, but in North America the male may incubate up to 25% of the time. The incubation period is normally 14–19 days, with another 18–23 days before the altricial
Altricial
Altricial, meaning "requiring nourishment", refers to a pattern of growth and development in organisms which are incapable of moving around on their own soon after hatching or being born...

 chicks fledge. The fledged young stay with, and are fed by, the parents for about a week after leaving the nest. Occasionally, first-year birds from the first brood will assist in feeding the second brood.

The Barn Swallow will mob
Mobbing behavior
Mobbing in animals is an antipredator behavior which occurs when individuals of a certain species mob a predator by cooperatively attacking or harassing it, usually to protect their offspring. A simple definition of mobbing is an assemblage of individuals around a potentially dangerous predator...

 intruders such as cat
Cat
The cat , also known as the domestic cat or housecat to distinguish it from other felids and felines, is a small, usually furry, domesticated, carnivorous mammal that is valued by humans for its companionship and for its ability to hunt vermin and household pests...

s or accipiter
Accipiter
The genus Accipiter is a group of birds of prey in the family Accipitridae, many of which are named as goshawks and sparrowhawks. They can be anatomically distinguished from their relatives by the lack of a procoracoid foramen. Two small and aberrant species usually placed here do possess a large...

s that venture too close to their nest, often flying very close to the threat. Adult Barn Swallows have few predators, but some are taken by accipiters, falcon
Falcon
A falcon is any species of raptor in the genus Falco. The genus contains 37 species, widely distributed throughout Europe, Asia, and North America....

s, and owl
Owl
Owls are a group of birds that belong to the order Strigiformes, constituting 200 bird of prey species. Most are solitary and nocturnal, with some exceptions . Owls hunt mostly small mammals, insects, and other birds, although a few species specialize in hunting fish...

s. Brood parasitism
Brood parasite
Brood parasites are organisms that use the strategy of brood parasitism, a kind of kleptoparasitism found among birds, fish or insects, involving the manipulation and use of host individuals either of the same or different species to raise the young of the brood-parasite...

 by cowbird
Cowbird
Cowbirds are birds belonging to the genus Molothrus in the family Icteridae. They are brood parasitic New World birds which are unrelated to the Old World cuckoos, one of which, the Common Cuckoo, is the best-known brood parasitic bird....

s in North America or cuckoo
Cuckoo
The cuckoos are a family, Cuculidae, of near passerine birds. The order Cuculiformes, in addition to the cuckoos, also includes the turacos . Some zoologists and taxonomists have also included the unique Hoatzin in the Cuculiformes, but its taxonomy remains in dispute...

s in Eurasia is rare.

There are normally two broods, with the original nest being reused for the second brood and being repaired and reused in subsequent years. Hatching success is 90% and the fledging survival rate is 70–90%. Average mortality is 70–80% in the first year and 40–70% for the adult. Although the record age is more than 11 years, most survive less than four years. Barn Swallow nestlings have prominent red gapes, a feature shown to induce feeding by parent birds. An experiment in manipulating brood size and immune system showed the vividness of the gape was positively correlated with T-cell–mediated immunocompetence, and that larger brood size and injection with an antigen led to a less vivid gape.

The Barn Swallow has been recorded as hybridising with the Cliff Swallow
Cliff Swallow
The Cliff Swallow is a member of the passerine bird family Hirundinidae — the swallows and martins.It breeds in North America, and is migratory, wintering in western South America from Venezuela southwards to northeast Argentina...

 (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) and the Cave Swallow
Cave Swallow
The Cave Swallow, Petrochelidon fulva, is a medium-sized, squarish tailed swallow belonging to the same genus as the more familiar and widespread Cliff Swallow of North America...

 (P. fulva) in North America, and the House Martin (Delichon urbicum) in Eurasia, the cross with the latter being one of the most common passerine hybrids.

Parasites and predators

Barn swallows (and other small passerines) often have characteristic feather holes
Feather holes
Feather holes often characteristically occur on wing and tail feathers of some small-bodied species of passerines. In the case of Barn Swallows, it was suggested that the holes were feeding traces of avian lice, either Machaerilaemus malleus and/or Myrsidea rustica .Hole counts were shown to be...

 on their wing and tail feathers. These holes were suggested as being caused by avian lice such as Machaerilaemus malleus and Myrsidea rustica. However other studies suggest that they are mainly caused by species of Brueelia
Brueelia
Brueelia is a genus of lice in the family Philopteridae, containing the following species:* Brueelia amandavae Rekasi & Saxena, 2005* Brueelia astrildae Tendeiro & Mendes, 1994* Bureelia cantans Sychra, 2010...

(Phthiraptera: Ischnocera
Ischnocera
The Ischnocera is a large suborder of lice mostly parasitic on birds but including a large family parasitic on mammals. The genus Trichophilopterus is also found on mammals but probably belongs to the "avian Ischnocera" and represents a host switch from birds to mammals...

). Several other species of lice have been described from barn swallows hosts including Brueelia domestica and Philopterus microsomaticus. In Texas, the swallow bug (Oeciacus vicarius) which is common on species such as the Cliff Swallow
Cliff Swallow
The Cliff Swallow is a member of the passerine bird family Hirundinidae — the swallows and martins.It breeds in North America, and is migratory, wintering in western South America from Venezuela southwards to northeast Argentina...

 is also known to infest Barn Swallows.

Predatory bats such as Megaderma lyra
Megaderma Lyra
The Greater False Vampire Bat is a carnivorous bat, just as the South American Spectral Bat. However, it lives in Asia, along with other bats of the genus Megaderma, which are also known as "false vampires".- Description :...

are known to prey on Barn Swallows. Swallows at their communal roosts attract predators and several falcon species are known to make use of these opportunities. Falcon species confirmed as predators include the Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon
The Peregrine Falcon , also known as the Peregrine, and historically as the Duck Hawk in North America, is a widespread bird of prey in the family Falconidae. A large, crow-sized falcon, it has a blue-gray back, barred white underparts, and a black head and "moustache"...

 and the African Hobby
African Hobby
The African Hobby is a species of bird of prey in the Falconidae family.It is found in Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea,...

.

Status

The Barn Swallow has an enormous range, with an estimated global extent of 51.7 million square kilometres (19.96 million square miles) and a population of 190 million individuals. Although global population trends have not been quantified, the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List
IUCN Red List
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species , founded in 1963, is the world's most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature is the world's main authority on the conservation status of species...

 (that is, declining more than 30 percent in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as "least concern" on the 2007 IUCN Red List, and has no special status under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which regulates international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants.

This is a species which has greatly benefited historically from forest clearance, which has created the open habitats it prefers, and from human habitation, which have given it an abundance of safe man-made nest sites. There have been local declines due to the use of DDT
DDT
DDT is one of the most well-known synthetic insecticides. It is a chemical with a long, unique, and controversial history....

 in Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

 in the 1950s, competition for nest sites with House Sparrow
House Sparrow
The House Sparrow is a bird of the sparrow family Passeridae, found in most parts of the world. One of about 25 species in the genus Passer, the House Sparrow occurs naturally in most of Europe, the Mediterranean region, and much of Asia...

s in the US in the 19th century, and an ongoing gradual decline in numbers in parts of Europe and Asia due to agricultural intensification, reducing the availability of insect food. However, there has been an increase in the population in North America during the 20th century with the greater availability of nesting sites and subsequent range expansion, including the colonisation of northern Alberta
Alberta
Alberta is a province of Canada. It had an estimated population of 3.7 million in 2010 making it the most populous of Canada's three prairie provinces...

.

A specific threat to wintering birds from the European populations is the transformation by the South African government of a light aircraft runway near Durban
Durban
Durban is the largest city in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal and the third largest city in South Africa. It forms part of the eThekwini metropolitan municipality. Durban is famous for being the busiest port in South Africa. It is also seen as one of the major centres of tourism...

 into an international airport
King Shaka International Airport
King Shaka International Airport, also known as La Mercy Airport and abbreviated as KSIA, is the primary airport serving Durban, South Africa. Located at La Mercy, approximately north of the city centre of Durban, it opened its doors to passengers on May 1, 2010, just over a month before the...

 for the 2010 FIFA World Cup
2010 FIFA World Cup
The 2010 FIFA World Cup was the 19th FIFA World Cup, the world championship for men's national association football teams. It took place in South Africa from 11 June to 11 July 2010...

. The roughly 250 metres (275 yards) square Mount Moreland reed bed is a night roost for more than three million Barn Swallows, which represent one percent of the global population and eight percent of the European breeding population. The reed bed lies on the flight path of aircraft using the proposed La Mercy airport, and there were fears that it would be cleared because the birds could threaten aircraft safety. However, following detailed evaluation, advanced radar technology will be installed to enable planes using the airport to be warned of bird movements and, if necessary, take appropriate measures to avoid the flocks.

Climate change
Climate change
Climate change is a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. It may be a change in average weather conditions or the distribution of events around that average...

 may affect the Barn Swallow; drought causes weight loss and slow feather regrowth, and the expansion of the Sahara will make it a more formidable obstacle for migrating European birds. Hot dry summers will reduce the availability of insect food for chicks. Conversely, warmer springs may lengthen the breeding season and result in more chicks, and the opportunity to use nest sites outside buildings in the north of the range might also lead to more offspring.

Relationship with humans

The Barn Swallow is an attractive bird which feeds on flying insects and has therefore been tolerated by humans when it shares their buildings for nesting. As one of the earlier migrants, this conspicuous species is also seen as an early sign of summer's approach.

In the Old World
Old World
The Old World consists of those parts of the world known to classical antiquity and the European Middle Ages. It is used in the context of, and contrast with, the "New World" ....

, the Barn Swallow appears to have used man-made structures and bridges since time immemorial. An early reference is in Virgil
Virgil
Publius Vergilius Maro, usually called Virgil or Vergil in English , was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues , the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid...

's Georgics
Georgics
The Georgics is a poem in four books, likely published in 29 BC. It is the second major work by the Latin poet Virgil, following his Eclogues and preceding the Aeneid. It is a poem that draws on many prior sources and influenced many later authors from antiquity to the present...

(29 BC) ...garrula quam tignis nidum suspendat hirundo (...the twittering swallow hangs its nest from the rafters).

It is believed that the Barn Swallow began attaching its nest to Native American
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...

 habitations in the early 19th century, and the subsequent spread of settlement across North America is thought to have resulted in a dramatic population expansion of the species across the continent.

Many cattle farmers believed that swallows spread Salmonella
Salmonella
Salmonella is a genus of rod-shaped, Gram-negative, non-spore-forming, predominantly motile enterobacteria with diameters around 0.7 to 1.5 µm, lengths from 2 to 5 µm, and flagella which grade in all directions . They are chemoorganotrophs, obtaining their energy from oxidation and reduction...

infections, however a study in Sweden showed no evidence of the birds being reservoirs of the bacteria.

In literature

Many literary references are based on the Barn Swallow's northward migration as a symbol of spring or summer. The proverb
Proverb
A proverb is a simple and concrete saying popularly known and repeated, which expresses a truth, based on common sense or the practical experience of humanity. They are often metaphorical. A proverb that describes a basic rule of conduct may also be known as a maxim...

 about the necessity for more than one piece of evidence goes back at least to Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

's Nicomachean Ethics
Nicomachean Ethics
The Nicomachean Ethics is the name normally given to Aristotle's best known work on ethics. The English version of the title derives from Greek Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια, transliterated Ethika Nikomacheia, which is sometimes also given in the genitive form as Ἠθικῶν Νικομαχείων, Ethikōn Nikomacheiōn...

: "For as one swallow or one day does not make a spring, so one day or a short time does not make a fortunate or happy man."

The Barn Swallow symbolizes the coming of spring and thus love in the Pervigilium Veneris
Pervigilium Veneris
Pervigilium Veneris, the Vigil of Venus, is a Latin poem, probably written in the 4th century. It is generally thought to have been by the poet Tiberianus, due to strong similarities with the latter’s poem Amnis ibat. It was written professedly in early spring on the eve of a three-nights'...

, a late Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 poem. In "The Waste Land
The Waste Land
The Waste Land[A] is a 434-line[B] modernist poem by T. S. Eliot published in 1922. It has been called "one of the most important poems of the 20th century." Despite the poem's obscurity—its shifts between satire and prophecy, its abrupt and unannounced changes of speaker, location and time, its...

", T. S. Eliot
T. S. Eliot
Thomas Stearns "T. S." Eliot OM was a playwright, literary critic, and arguably the most important English-language poet of the 20th century. Although he was born an American he moved to the United Kingdom in 1914 and was naturalised as a British subject in 1927 at age 39.The poem that made his...

 quoted the line "Quando fiam uti chelidon [ut tacere desinam]?" ("When will I be like the swallow, so that I can stop being silent?") This refers to a version of the myth of Philomela in which she turns into a Nightingale
Nightingale
The Nightingale , also known as Rufous and Common Nightingale, is a small passerine bird that was formerly classed as a member of the thrush family Turdidae, but is now more generally considered to be an Old World flycatcher, Muscicapidae...

 and her sister Procne into a Swallow
Swallow
The swallows and martins are a group of passerine birds in the family Hirundinidae which are characterised by their adaptation to aerial feeding...

; in less familiar versions, the two species are reversed. On the other hand, an image of the assembly of Swallows for their southward migration concludes John Keats
John Keats
John Keats was an English Romantic poet. Along with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, he was one of the key figures in the second generation of the Romantic movement, despite the fact that his work had been in publication for only four years before his death.Although his poems were not...

's ode "To Autumn
To Autumn
"To Autumn" is a poem by English Romantic poet John Keats . The work was composed on 19 September 1819 and published in 1820 in a volume of Keats's poetry that included Lamia and The Eve of Saint Agnes. "To Autumn" is the final work in a group of poems known as Keats's "1819 odes"...

".

There are mentions of the Barn Swallow in the Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

, although it seems likely that it is confused with the swift
Swift
The swifts are a family, Apodidae, of highly aerial birds. They are superficially similar to swallows, but are actually not closely related to passerine species at all; swifts are in the separate order Apodiformes, which they share with hummingbirds...

s in many translations, or possibly other hirundine species
Swallow
The swallows and martins are a group of passerine birds in the family Hirundinidae which are characterised by their adaptation to aerial feeding...

 which breed in Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

. However, "Yea, the sparrow hath found her a house, And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young" from likely applies to the Barn Swallow.

The swallow is also notably cited in several of William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

's plays for the swiftness of its flight; for example: "True hope is swift, and flies with swallow's wings ..." from Act 5 of Richard III
Richard III (play)
Richard III is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in approximately 1591. It depicts the Machiavellian rise to power and subsequent short reign of Richard III of England. The play is grouped among the histories in the First Folio and is most often classified...

, and "I have horse will follow where the game Makes way, and run like swallows o'er the plain." from the second act of Titus Andronicus
Titus Andronicus
Titus Andronicus is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, and possibly George Peele, believed to have been written between 1588 and 1593. It is thought to be Shakespeare's first tragedy, and is often seen as his attempt to emulate the violent and bloody revenge plays of his contemporaries, which were...

. Shakespeare also references the annual migration of the species poetically in The Winter's Tale
The Winter's Tale
The Winter's Tale is a play by William Shakespeare, originally published in the First Folio of 1623. Although it was grouped among the comedies, some modern editors have relabelled the play as one of Shakespeare's late romances. Some critics, among them W. W...

, Act 4: "Daffodils, That come before the swallow dares, and take The winds of March with beauty; violets dim, ...".
In a tale of Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was an Irish writer and poet. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of London's most popular playwrights in the early 1890s...

.

In culture

Gilbert White
Gilbert White
Gilbert White FRS was a pioneering English naturalist and ornithologist.-Life:White was born in his grandfather's vicarage at Selborne in Hampshire. He was educated at the Holy Ghost School and by a private tutor in Basingstoke before going to Oriel College, Oxford...

 studied the Barn Swallow in detail in his pioneering work The Natural History of Selborne, but even this careful observer was uncertain whether it migrated or hibernated in winter. Elsewhere, its long journeys have been well-observed, and a swallow tattoo is popular amongst nautical men as a symbol of a safe return; the tradition was that a mariner had a tattoo of this fellow wanderer after sailing 5,000 nautical miles (9,260 km, 5,755 statute miles). A second swallow would be added after 10,000 nautical miles (18,520 km, 11,510 statute miles) at sea.

In the past, the tolerance for this beneficial insectivore
Insectivore
An insectivore is a type of carnivore with a diet that consists chiefly of insects and similar small creatures. An alternate term is entomophage, which also refers to the human practice of eating insects....

 was reinforced by superstitions regarding damage to the Barn Swallow's nest. Such an act might lead to cows giving bloody milk, or no milk at all, or to hens ceasing to lay. This may be a factor in the longevity of swallows' nests. Survival, with suitable annual refurbishment, for 10–15 years is regular, and one nest was reported to have been occupied for 48 years.

It is depicted as the Martlet, Merlette or Merlot in heraldry
Heraldry
Heraldry is the profession, study, or art of creating, granting, and blazoning arms and ruling on questions of rank or protocol, as exercised by an officer of arms. Heraldry comes from Anglo-Norman herald, from the Germanic compound harja-waldaz, "army commander"...

, where it represents younger sons who have no lands. It is also represented as lacking feet as this was a common belief at the time. As a result of a campaign by ornithologists
Ornithology
Ornithology is a branch of zoology that concerns the study of birds. Several aspects of ornithology differ from related disciplines, due partly to the high visibility and the aesthetic appeal of birds...

, the Barn Swallow has been the national bird of Estonia
Estonia
Estonia , officially the Republic of Estonia , is a state in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia , and to the east by Lake Peipsi and the Russian Federation . Across the Baltic Sea lies...

 since 23 June 1960.

External links


Further reading

Smiddy, P. 2010. Post-fledging roosting at the nest in juvenile barn swallows (Hirundo rustica). Ir Nat. J. : 31: 44 - 46.
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