Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

Barn Swallow by Jack BartholmaiBarn Swallow distribution map


Population Information

The Federal BBS information can be obtained at by clicking on Trend Estimates and selecting the species in question. All estimates are for time period (1966-2005).

Life History

Habitat Selection

Throughout its range, the Barn Swallow is a habitat generalist and uses a wide variety of open wetland, grassland and agricultural or rural habitats for foraging and nesting (Brown and Brown 1999, Davis and Davis 2006). In Wisconsin, it commonly nests in urban areas as well as open wetland and agricultural habitats. Nests are often placed under a horizontal ledge or overhang, such as those found on docks, barns, houses, bridges or cliffs and are located near an accessible mud source (Davis and Davis 2006). 

Habitat Availability

The Barn Swallow population has undoubtedly increased across North America due to its ability to use man-made structures for nesting (Speich et al. 1986). These nest sites are abundant and widespread in Wisconsin and the Barn Swallow is consequently uniformly distributed throughout the state. Breeding activity was documented in nearly 85% of the quads surveyed during the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas (Davis and Davis 2006).

Population Concerns

The Barn Swallow is widely distributed across most of North America and throughout Wisconsin, where it is considered a common summer resident (Robbins 1991). This species likely has benefited from human activities and may be much more abundant today than in pre-settlement times (Brown and Brown 1999). Nevertheless, recent population declines are cause for concern. Although the Breeding Bird Survey suggests a stable population trend for Wisconsin, other sources suggest a significant decline in the state (Howe and Roberts 2005, Rolley 2005) as well as elsewhere in its range (Sauer et al. 2005). As land use practices in rural areas intensify, foraging habitats and food resources may become more limited. Additionally, the aerial spraying of insecticides and pesticides reduces prey resources and has been implicated in the Barn Swallow’s decline in Israel (Brown and Brown 1999).  

Recommended Management

Conservation efforts should protect and restore artificial nesting sites on buildings, bridges, and other overhanging structures adjacent to open agricultural and wetland habitats. Homeowners should consider using building materials compatible with this species’ nesting requirements (i.e., brick, stone, concrete) and limit use of vinyl or metal. In some cases, artificial platforms may be required. Limit the use of pesticides and other harmful chemicals in important nesting and foraging areas (Brown and Brown 1999).

Research Needs

More research is needed to identify population limiting factors, including the impact of pesticides on food resources. Information on winter habitat requirements for the North American Barn Swallow population is lacking and warrants study.

Information Sources


Contact Information

Kreitinger, K., Y. Steele and A. Paulios, editors. 2013.
The Wisconsin All-bird Conservation Plan, Version 2.0. Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Madison, WI.

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