Barn swallows are one of many birds known for their migration habits. But just how far they travel, and the time when they do so, may surprise you. So, when do barn swallows migrate? Why do they do it, where do they go, and when do they return to their breeding grounds? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll answer all of these questions and more.
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Why Do Barn Swallows Migrate?
Barn swallows eat insects almost exclusively. They can eat some types of fruit, berries, and seeds as well, but these are only to supplement their insect-heavy diet.
They consume up to their own weight in food per day, and this need for large amounts of insects is what drives their migratory habits. They migrate to avoid winter food shortages.
When the weather starts to cool down in their breeding grounds, they begin to head south toward warmer temperatures. When spring returns to these northern regions, they return.
Following this migration pattern theoretically ensures that the birds will never go hungry because, wherever they are, insects will always be in season.
When Do Barn Swallows Migrate?
Journey North gives an excellent month-by-month timeline of barn swallows’ yearly migrations. To sum up this timeline: barn swallows head north in the spring and head back south during the fall.
Of course, this is an oversimplified answer. During the spring and summer months, these birds can be found from southern Texas up through Canada and even southern Alaska; as you might imagine, those staying in Texas arrive much sooner than those traveling further north.
The birds that travel the farthest north spend the least amount of time in their summer homes. Not only does the weather cool down sooner up north, but the swallows have farther to travel to reach their overwintering grounds.
Those in the north may begin heading south as early as July. Migration season is in full swing through August and September, and the birds in southern regions finally begin to join in during late September and October.
When Do Barn Swallows Return?
The birds that stay in southern areas spend more time in their breeding grounds and less time migrating. The weather stays milder for longer in these southern climates, and, generally speaking, they don’t have as far to go once they do begin their migration.
Barn swallows tend to begin their spring migration as early as February and may reach their destinations in southern California and Texas toward the end of the month. Northern populations gradually start arriving through central and northern states over the next month or two, and those found in Canada and Alaska finally arrive during the month of May.
Again, the barn swallow’s migration is all about following the food. When insects begin to diminish in their overwintering grounds, they know it’s time to head back north (check out this guide on hot to attract them).
Where Do Barn Swallows Go in the Winter?
As noted in the above sections, barn swallows are found all over the United States during the spring and summer months. Similar populations are found throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia as well.
This begs the question: just how far south do they fly during their migrations? Where, exactly, do they go during the winter?
The simplest answer is this: Barn swallows breed during summer in the northern hemisphere, then they travel to the southern hemisphere during the winter.
This is because, when it’s winter in the northern hemisphere, it’s summer in the southern hemisphere, and vice versa.
So, you could say that barn swallows migrate toward spring and summer. When it’s summer in the northern hemisphere, they go there to breed; when it’s summer in the southern hemisphere, they go there to find food.
Barn swallows found in North America migrate to different parts of Central and South America. Some populations will travel as far south as Argentina.
Those native to Europe, Africa, and Asia migrate to southern parts of Africa, northern Australia, and southern Asia.
How Far Do Barn Swallows Travel?
If you’re thinking, “That’s a long way to travel for food!” then you’re right. Some populations of barn swallows travel thousands of miles over several months in each direction when migrating.
That said, not all barn swallow populations travel the same distances. Some have very short migrations, lasting for only a few weeks.
These birds may spend from February to October in extreme southern parts of the U.S., then travel to northern parts of Central or South America for a couple of months in the winter.
Those found in eastern parts of Canada and the U.S. tend to travel farther than the ones from the west. These birds begin their migrations much earlier, may only spend a month or two in their northern breeding grounds, and may travel all the way to southern reaches of Argentina.
So it’s impossible to say exactly how far barn swallows travel during their migrations, as the answer will vary for each population. The distance may be as little as a few hundred miles or as great as several thousand.
Do Barn Swallows Migrate at Night?
Barn swallows are generally diurnal birds. This means they are most active and do the majority of their flying during the day.
The same holds true while they are migrating. Barn swallows travel during the day at speeds of between 15 and 35 miles per hour, and they stop to rest along the way at night.
A possible exception is the birds that travel across seas or oceans to reach their destination. Obviously, they can’t very well land to rest on the water.
Most barn swallows prefer flying over land and will attempt to avoid large bodies of water, while others consistently travel over water. That said, even those that brave the ocean seem to prefer the shortest over-water routes possible.
If they are caught out over the ocean as night falls, they will continue flying until they reach land. Once they are back over land, they will find a place to stop and rest for the remainder of the night.
Check out this video to learn more about barn swallow migration:
Barn swallows breed in the northern hemisphere and migrate to the southern hemisphere when the weather up north grows cold. These insectivorous birds migrate so that they always have a reliable food source at their disposal.