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Barn Swallow


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Glistening cobalt blue above and tawny below, Barn Swallows dart gracefully over fields, barnyards, and open water in search of flying insect prey. Look for the long, deeply forked tail that streams out behind this agile flyer and sets it apart from all other North American swallows. Barn Swallows often cruise low, flying just a few inches above the ground or water. True to their name, they build their cup-shaped mud nests almost exclusively on human-made structures.

Keys to identification Help

Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    When perched, the sparrow-sized Barn Swallow appears cone shaped, with a slightly flattened head, no visible neck, and broad shoulders that taper to long, pointed wings. The tail extends well beyond the wingtips and the long outer feathers give the tail a deep fork.

  • Color Pattern

    Barn Swallows have a steely blue back, wings, and tail, and rufous to tawny underparts. The blue crown and face contrast with the cinnamon-colored forehead and throat. White spots under the tail can be difficult to see except in flight. Males are more boldly colored than females.

  • Behavior

    Barn Swallows feed on the wing, snagging insects from just above the ground or water to heights of 100 feet or more. They fly with fluid wingbeats in bursts of straight flight, rarely gliding, and can execute quick, tight turns and dives. When aquatic insects hatch, Barn Swallows may join other swallow species in mixed foraging flocks.

  • Habitat

    You can find the adaptable Barn Swallow feeding in open habitats from fields, parks, and roadway edges to marshes, meadows, ponds, and coastal waters. Their nests are often easy to spot under the eaves or inside of sheds, barns, bridges and other structures.

Range Map Help

Barn Swallow Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Male

    Barn Swallow

    • Slender swallow with long wings and long, forked tail
    • Glossy blue/purple above
    • Buffy orange below (males have deeper orange color)
    • Rusty orange forehead and throat
    • © Eddie Y, Flushing Meadows, Corona, Queens, New York, May 2011
  • Female

    Barn Swallow

    • Slender with long wings and tail
    • Female buffy white below
    • Glossy blue/purple above
    • Rusty forehead and throat
    • © Brian Sullivan , May 2011
  • Juvenile

    Barn Swallow

    • Chubbier than adults with shorter tail
    • Bill pale yellow on sides
    • Dusky blue-gray above with some iridescence visible
    • Buffy on face and underparts
    • © Jo-Anna Ghadban, Fort Hill, Eastham, Massachusetts, August 2009
  • Male and female on nest

    Barn Swallow

    Male and female on nest
    • Slender shape with long, forked tail and long wings
    • Male with rich orange underparts
    • Female with paler, buffy-white underparts
    • Mud cup nest built under eaves or inside open buildings
    • © Laura Erickson, Montezuma NWR, Seneca Falls, New York, May 2009
  • Male

    Barn Swallow

    • Long wings, short neck
    • Short legs
    • Glossy blue above
    • Orange below with darker, rusty face
    • © Roy Brown, St. George Island, Florida, April 2011
  • Male

    Barn Swallow

    • Long, forked tail
    • In spring, gathers mud on ground for nest
    • Orange below with darker, rusty face
    • © Robinsegg, Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Utah, May 2005
  • Male

    Barn Swallow

    • Long wings and long, forked tail
    • Short legs
    • Orange below with rusty face
    • Glossy blue/purple above
    • © Raymond Lee, Parkland County, Alberta, Canada, June 2010
  • Male in flight

    Barn Swallow

    Male in flight
    • Long, pointed wings
    • Long "streamers" on outer edges of fanned tail
    • Bold white spots on central tail feathers
    • Buffy orange below
    • © JMK Birder, Tolland, Connecticut, July 2010

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Cliff Swallow

    • Similar to Barn Swallow but lacks long, forked tail
    • Chubbier than Barn Swallow
    • Some juvenile Barn Swallows have squared tail, but Cliff Swallow shows pale rump and collar
    • Buff or white patch on forehead
    • © Stephen Ramirez, Plum Creek Bridge, Calverton County, Texas, May 2010
  • Adult with Barn Swallow in background

    Cliff Swallow

    Adult with Barn Swallow in background
    • Chubbier than Barn Swallow with squared tail
    • Pale, buffy collar and rump
    • Buff or white forehead patch
    • © Cameron Rognan, Arcata Bottoms, Arcata, California, May 2007
  • Adult male

    Tree Swallow

    Adult male
    • Similar to juvenile Barn Swallow
    • Throat and underparts bright snowy white
    • Upperparts glossy blue-green (duller in females and immatures)
    • Forked tail much shorter than adult Barn Swallow
    • © Andy Johnson, Green Lake, Interlochen, Michigan, May 2009

Similar Species

None of the other North American swallows have tails as deeply forked as the Barn Swallow. Tree Swallows and Violet-green Swallows are bright white below from throat to belly. Cliff Swallows share the Barn Swallow's glossy blue upperparts and rusty throat, but the forehead is pale and the rump (just above the tail) is creamy. Chimney Swifts and Vaux's Swifts are smaller with narrower, more curved wings and much stiffer wingbeats. They are entirely dark and tend to fly much higher than Barn Swallows.

Backyard Tips

Barn Swallows don't come to seed or suet feeders, but they may take ground-up eggshells or oyster shells placed on an open platform feeder. If you have a suitable outbuilding, leaving a door or window open can encourage Barn Swallows to build a nest inside. Providing a source of mud will also help with nest building. Barn Swallows may use artificial nest cups attached to an appropriate surface.

Consider putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair. Make sure you put it up well before breeding season. Attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young. Find out more about nest boxes on our Attract Birds pages. You'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site.

Find This Bird

Look for Barn Swallows feeding above meadows, fields, and farmyards and over water, or perched on wires near feeding areas and nesting sites. During the breeding season keep an eye on mud puddles, as Barn Swallows come to the ground to pick up mud and grass for nesting materials. Their mud nests are often tucked under the eaves of barns and stables, on structures near playing fields, or under bridges. You can find Barn Swallows across most of North America.

Get Involved

Barn Swallow is one of the focal species in our Celebrate Urban Birds citizen-science project.



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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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