Cover photos credit: Mark Peck (all photos)

Status

Threatened

“Threatened” means the species lives in the wild in Ontario, is not endangered, but is likely to become endangered if steps are not taken to address factors threatening it.

Date added to the Species at Risk in Ontario List

January 13, 2012

Read the Assessment Report

What it looks like

The Barn Swallow is a medium-sized songbird (about 15 to 18 centimetres long). Males have a glossy steel-blue back and upper wings, a rusty-red forehead and throat, a short bill and a broad blue breast band above its tawny underbelly.

The male has long tail feathers which form a distinctive, deep fork and a line of white spots across the outer end of the upper tail.

The female’s tail feathers are shorter, the blue of her upper parts and breast band are less glossy, and her underside is paler.

Where it lives

Barn Swallows often live in close association with humans, building their cup-shaped mud nests almost exclusively on human-made structures such as open barns, under bridges and in culverts.

The species is attracted to open structures that include ledges where they can build their nests, which are often re-used from year to year.

They prefer unpainted, rough-cut wood, since the mud does not adhere as well to smooth surfaces.

Where it’s been found in Ontario

The Barn Swallow may be found throughout southern Ontario and can range as far north as Hudson Bay, wherever suitable locations for nests exist.

What threatens it

Barn Swallows have experienced a significant decline since the mid-1980s.

While there have been losses in the number of available nest sites, such as open barns, and in the amount of foraging habitat in open agricultural areas, the causes of the recent population decline are not well understood.

This bird’s nests are often destroyed when old buildings in rural areas are demolished or fall down.

In addition, as farms modernize, many old barns that offered easy access are being replaced by large metal sheds with tight-fitting doors and no windows.

Massive pesticide spraying of fields can also reduce the insect population barns swallows need for food.

The number of Barn Swallows in Ontario decreased by 65 percent between 1966 and 2009.

Action we are taking

Threatened Species and their general habitat are automatically protected

Recovery strategy

A recovery strategy advises the ministry on ways to ensure healthy numbers of the species return to Ontario.

Read the executive summary (August 13, 2014)

Read the recovery strategy (August 13, 2014)

Government response statement

A government response statement outlines the actions the government intends to take or support to help recover the species.

Read the government response statement (May 13, 2015)

Review of Progress

A review of progress made toward protecting and recovering a species is required no later than the time specified in the species’ government response statement, or not later than five years after the government response statement is published if no time is specified.

Read the report on progress towards the protection and recovery of four species at risk, including Barn Swallow (2020).

Habitat protection

General habitat descriptions are technical, science-based documents that provide greater clarity on the area of habitat protected for a species.

Read the general habitat description (July 2, 2013)

What you can do

Report a sighting

  • Report a sighting of an endangered animal or plant to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful.
  • Bird Studies Canada is working to advance the understanding, appreciation and conservation of wild birds and their habitat in Ontario and elsewhere. For more information on how you can help, visit
    www.bsc-eoc.org.

Volunteer

  • Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.

Be a good steward

  • Private land owners have a very important role to play in species recovery. If you find a barn swallow nesting on your land, you may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.
  • If you have buildings such as a shed or barn on your property where Barn Swallows could nest, you can encourage them by creating an opening or leaving a way for them to enter the building. Ledges may be installed if rough vertical surfaces are not available. It is helpful to provide a source of mud near the building entrance, particularly during dry weather.
  • As with all wildlife, don’t disturb or harass the birds or nesting sites. Be respectful and observe from a distance.

Report illegal activity

Quick facts

  • Undertaking an activity near or affecting Barn Swallow? Your activity may qualify for streamlined approval and registration. Learn more,
  • According to legend, the Barn Swallow got its forked tail because it stole fire from the gods to bring to people. An angry deity hurled a firebrand at the swallow, singeing away its middle tail feathers.
  • Barn Swallows make the long flight to Central and South America each fall, returning to southern Canada – including Ontario – each spring.
  • Barn Swallows dart gracefully over fields, barnyards, marshes and open water to hunt for food. They often cruise at high speeds just above the ground or water and make sharp turns, swooping effortlessly to catch flies and other insects. When feeding their young, Barn Swallows fly from before dawn to after sunset, taking only brief rests.
  • This species can be beneficial to farmers since they eat large numbers of insects that could otherwise be harmful to crops or farm animals.