Barn Swallow: Key Facts

Did you know that barn swallows are found all over the world at different times of the year? Or that they don’t stop flying when it’s time for food and water? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll explore these and other barn swallow key facts.

Quick Facts About Barn Swallows

Scientific Name:Hirundo rustica
Type of Animal:Passerine bird: swallow
Number of Subspecies:6
Physical Description:Sparrow-sized passerine birds, blue on their upper parts and brown and white on the underside. They have large, pointed wings and scissor-like tails distinctive to the swallow family. Eggs are white with brown speckles and about 0.6 to 0.8 inches long.  
Distribution:Widely distributed worldwide; found on every continent except Antarctica.
Habitat:Can live in a variety of open habitats from sea level to 10,000 feet. Common habitats include grasslands, coastal areas, agricultural fields, suburban areas, and near ponds and streams.
Size:6 to 7.5 inches long; 0.6 to 0.7 ounces in weight.
Diet:Primarily insectivorous; foods include:
– Flies
– Wasps
– Mosquitoes
– Moths
– Beetles
– Grasshoppers
– Seeds and fruits
Lifespan:4 years on average

What are Barn Swallows?

Barn swallows are the most widely-distributed passerine birds in the world; due to their migration habits, they can be found spread out over every continent except Antarctica for at least a part of the year.

Barn swallows breed in the northern hemisphere during the spring and summer. As the weather begins to cool down, they begin flying south and spend the austral summer near the equator and in the southern hemisphere.

Their diet drives this migration. Barn swallows are insectivores, and food is scarce during the fall and winter; therefore, they follow the food to warmer climates in the south.

When it is time to raise young again, they return to their breeding grounds in the northern hemisphere.

Barn swallows are about the size of sparrows and have beautiful blue and brown coloring. Their long, pointed wings are excellent for flying long distances, and their forked tails allow them to maneuver effortlessly in the air.

To learn more about barn swallows, check out this video:

What are Some Interesting Facts About Barn Swallows?

  • They can travel incredible distances. Despite being small and lightweight, some barn swallows travel as much as 6,000 miles during their annual migration.
  • They eat and drink “on the wing”. This means that they don’t stop flying when it’s time for a meal or a drink of water–they catch insects in midair and swoop down low over water sources, skimming across the water’s surface to scoop up a mouthful.
  • Though they typically live about 4 years, the oldest known barn swallow was 8 years old. It was discovered in Maryland and had been banded, which is what allowed scientists to discover its age.
  • Both males and females build nests and raise young. Though the female is primarily responsible for structuring the nest and incubating the young, the male will help with both of these tasks, as well as finding food for his family.
  • Young barn swallows will fledge about three weeks after hatching, but they don’t leave home right away. They will continue to return to the nest for another week or so, staying there at night and being fed by mom and dad while they adjust to life on their own.


Barn swallows are beautiful birds known for their mud nests and long migrations. They are some of the most widespread passerine birds in the world. Here are our guides on how to attract them to your yard, or how to scare them away if you prefer not to have them on your property.

Read also about other wildlife birds – here are our guides about grackles, hawks, and mockingbirds.

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