My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica

The Barn Swallow is the most widespread species of swallow in the world. It is a distinctive passerine bird with blue upper parts, a long, deeply forked tail and curved, pointed wings. It is found in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas.

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 from mud pellets in barns or similar structures and feeds on insects 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.

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.

The Barn Swallow is similar in its habits to other aerial insectivores, including other swallow species and the unrelated swifts. It is not a particularly fast flier, with a speed estimated at about 11 m/s, up to 20 m/s and a wing beat rate of approximately 5, up to 7–9 times each second, but it has the maneuverability necessary to feed on flying insects while airborne. It is often seen flying relatively low in open or semi-open areas.

The Barn Swallow typically feeds 7–8 meters (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 make up around 70% of the diet, with aphids also a significant component. When egg-laying, Barn Swallows hunt in pairs, but will form often large flocks otherwise.

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.

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.

Both sexes defend the nest, but the male is particularly aggressive and territorial. Once established, pairs stay together to breed for life. 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.

In North America at least, Barn Swallows frequently engage in a mutualist relationship with Osprey. 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 Osprey. The Osprey are alerted to the presence of these predators by the alarm calls of the swallows.

On to my photos:

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

This is number 95 in my photo life list, only 255 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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2 responses

  1. I love barn swallows. They come and make nests in the indoor area and dive bomb us when we ride by. 🙂

    May 22, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    • I’ve been dive bombed myself by them, they sneak up behind me and scare the crap out of me.

      May 23, 2013 at 2:25 am