Bird Database

Barn Swallow

(Hirundo rustica)

State of the Birds
At a Glance



Long distance


Strongly Decreasing


Climate change, Prey declines, Pesticides

Conservation Actions

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Barn Swallow

(Hirundo rustica)

Barn Swallows are a common and familiar sight over most of New Hampshire, where they build their mud nests on buildings and bridges and forage over nearby open areas. Although there are records of nesting on Native American dwellings in the early 1800s, prior to European colonization the vast majority of Barn Swallows nested in caves. This behavior is now rare, and the species is almost entirely reliant on humans for nesting sites.

While they certainly increased following their association with people, the tide has turned for the Barn Swallow, and there are estimated to be 25% fewer Barn Swallows in North America than in the 1960. Reasons for the decline are poorly understood, although there has been a lot of speculation on the role of intensified agriculture. Increased use of pesticides, along with loss of edge habitats as fields expand, could easily result in significant changes in swallows’ insect prey.

Insects can also be suppressed by unseasonable whether such as spring cold snaps or extended periods of rain. When flying insects aren’t active, aerial insectivores have more trouble finding food, and nests will fail when swallows can’t provision their young. The good news for the Barn Swallow is that the decline seems to have slowed in the early 2000s. Whether this means that the still-unknown threats have abated – or the species is adapting to them – remains to be determined, but there is hope that this adaptable bird will continue to for decades and centuries to come.

Just how adaptable is the Barn Swallow? In addition to its widespread use of man-made structures, it is one of a handful of birds – and the only songbird – to occur on all continents save Antarctica (but it’s been recorded on the South Shetland Islands 100 miles north of the Antarctic Peninsula!). It breeds across the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere, including parts of northern Africa, and winters on the southern continents. In the 1980s it was discovered breeding in Argentina, where the local population has been slowly increasing since. These birds are presumably derived from wintering birds that failed to return north in the spring, and rapidly adapted to a breeding season six months offset from all other Barn Swallows on the planet. And just like “our” swallows, they depart the nesting area as winter approaches, with recent studies suggesting they migrate north to northeastern South America during the austral winter (our summer). For all we know they encounter “our” Barn Swallows as the latter head south each fall.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Barn Swallow
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count