The Barn Swallow is a medium-sized songbird (about 15 to 18 centimetres long). Males have a glossy steel-blue back and upper wings, a rusty-red forehead and throat, a short bill and a broad blue breast band above its tawny underbelly. The male has long tail feathers which form a distinctive, deep fork and a line of white spots across the outer end of the upper tail. The female’s tail feathers are shorter, the blue of her upper parts and breast band are less glossy, and her underside is paler.
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The Barn Swallow may be found throughout southern Ontario and can range as far north as Hudson Bay, wherever suitable locations for nests exist.
Barn Swallows often live in close association with humans, building their cup-shaped mud nests almost exclusively on human-made structures such as open barns, under bridges and in culverts. The species is attracted to open structures that include ledges where they can build their nests, which are often re-used from year to year. They prefer unpainted, rough-cut wood, since the mud does not adhere as well to smooth surfaces.
Barn Swallows have experienced a significant decline since the mid-1980s. While there have been losses in the number of available nest sites, such as open barns, and in the amount of foraging habitat in open agricultural areas, the causes of the recent population decline are not well understood.
This bird’s nests are often destroyed when old buildings in rural areas are demolished or fall down. In addition, as farms modernize, many old barns that offered easy access are being replaced by large metal sheds with tight-fitting doors and no windows. Massive pesticide spraying of fields can also reduce the insect population barns swallows need for food.
The number of Barn Swallows in Ontario decreased by 65 percent between 1966 and 2009.
The Barn Swallow and its habitat are protected under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act.
What You Can Do to Help the Barn Swallow
- The Ministry of Natural Resources tracks species at risk such as the Barn Swallow. You can use a handy online form to report your sightings to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful. nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca
- If you have buildings such as a shed or barn on your property where Barn Swallows could nest, you can encourage them by creating an opening or leaving a way for them to enter the building. Ledges may be installed if rough vertical surfaces are not available. It is helpful to provide a source of mud near the building entrance, particularly during dry weather.
- Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
- Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.
- Private land owners have a very important role to play in species recovery. You may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.
- As with all wildlife, don’t disturb or harass the birds or nesting sites. Be respectful and observe from a distance.
- The Canada-Ontario Farm Stewardship Program is available to farmers registered under the Canada-Ontario Environmental Farm Plan to encourage greater protection and conservation of habitat for species at risk. Find more information at www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/environment/efp/efp.htm.
Undertaking an activity near or affecting Barn Swallow? Your activity may qualify for streamlined approval and registration. Learn more
Did you know?
According to legend, the Barn Swallow got its forked tail because it stole fire from the gods to bring to people. An angry deity hurled a firebrand at the swallow, singeing away its middle tail feathers.
Did you know?
Barn Swallows make the long flight to Central and South America each fall, returning to southern Canada – including Ontario – each spring.
Did you know?
Barn Swallows dart gracefully over fields, barnyards, marshes and open water to hunt for food. They often cruise at high speeds just above the ground or water and make sharp turns, swooping effortlessly to catch flies and other insects. When feeding their young, Barn Swallows fly from before dawn to after sunset, taking only brief rests.
Did you know?
This species can be beneficial to farmers since they eat large numbers of insects that could otherwise be harmful to crops or farm animals.