Barn swallow, bright acrobats of the sky


By Linda C. DOLAK

OSU Ext. master gardener volunteer

I have always heard of barn swallows. But it was not until recently that I actually saw them.

My mom and I were lucky to observe this wondrous display of brightly colored birds during a walk. Hundreds of them!

We didn’t know what they were at the time, but we watched them zipping, dipping and turning in all directions for at least an hour.

They were so amazing that I decided to research their lives and habits.

The barn swallow is the most abundant of all swallows, and can be found on all continents except Antarctica.

Historically, barn swallow nests were found in the entrances of caves. Then it was always the barns; hence, the name.

These agile birds will use any structure where an overhang meets an angle or where the connection is rounded.

These swallows have adapted to people for quite some time, and most of their nests are now built in some type of human structure.

The dipping and twisting that we witnessed was actually the swallows hunting for insects, which they eat almost constantly. This makes their behavior an integrated approach to managing agricultural and garden insect pests.

Barn swallows are the most acrobatic of all birds. The barn swallows fly at various heights, from very close to the ground to more that 75 feet in the air.

The barn swallow is identified by its chestnut forehead, gold and blue underparts and dark, shiny, almost iridescent, blue backs. Another feature known to the barn swallow is its forked tail, which no other member of the swallow family has.

Treeless, open landscapes, such as fields, marshes and large yards are preferred by the barn swallow. They can be attracted to these types of areas, especially if there is a sufficient water supply such as a lake or pond.

Swallows mate for life, and both males and females participate in building the nest in the form of a cup.

The barn swallow is a migratory bird. It flies from North American breeding grounds to winter in Central and South America.

Barn swallows will not be attracted by the usual seed or suet as other birds, but may be attracted by ground egg shells or oyster shells that have been placed on an open feeder.

Leaving a door or window open on an outbuilding may encourage nesting inside. They will also need a source of mud and may use artificial nesting cups which have been attached to an acceptable surface.

For more information, visit http://go.osu.edu/barnswallow.

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