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Barn Swallows-Bomb Diving Insect Eaters

Updated on January 7, 2017
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Avid Self-Taught Gardener (learn as problems arise), Bird Watcher and Nature Lover.

Barn Swallow
Barn Swallow | Source

Having barn swallows frequent our backyard, adds to our entertainment during the summer. At days end, we can see them, careening and dive-bombing after insects. It is nice to see them and their antics because they do keep the insect population down.

However, though I enjoy their dive-bombing antics there is one habit that can be a nuisance and that is their "messy" nesting habits. I will acquaint you with the bird, their messy and bothersome protectionist nest habits. and give you some helpful suggestions on how co-exist with the swallow.

Description of the Barn Swallow

The barn swallow is the most abundant and widely distributed bird in the world. It is small and slender, with a long, forked tail. Its upperparts are steely blue, with the underparts a reddish-brown. The female is similar to the male only slightly duller with a shorter tail.

The color of the male is extremely important when it comes to mating. Females tend to prefer males that have a darker reddish chest color.


The barn swallow's original habitat was mountainous areas, seacoasts with caves, and hollow trees for nesting. However, with human sprawl, the swallow has had to adapt, which it has done quite nicely. It now makes it home in suburbs, along highways, culverts, bridges and agricultural areas.

Songs of the Swallow

The song of the swallow is a warble that ends with a su-seer. Alarm calls are a sharp "siflitt" for predators, which includes the cat. The call for a bird of prey is a "flitt-flitt" sounding call, with the hobby (falcon) being it most noble enemy.

Quick Fun Facts

  • Eggs: White with small dark spots
  • Length: 5.9-7/5 in.
  • Weight: 0.6-0.7 oz
  • An unmated Barn Swallow will kill the nestlings of a nesting pair, with the sole purpose of having the opportunity to mate with the female.
  • Barn Swallows bathe by flying over a pond and dipping into the water without stopping their flight.

Barn Swallow Nest
Barn Swallow Nest | Source

Feeding Behavior

You can see barn swallows either in the early mornings or before night-fall, dive-bombing over fields and in neighborhood yards foraging for insects. They will dive and weave through the air like acrobats, and with their mouth slightly open, catch and eat the flying insects. Though their diet consists mostly of flying insects and dead insects, they will on occasion eat berries and seeds.

Nesting Habits

You may think of a barn swallow only as a North American bird, this is not at all the case. Barn swallows will take up residence in North America only during their breeding season, then during the non-breeding season (which is winter), they will migrate to Central and South America.

Breeding Season

Shortly after the swallows arrive at their summer residence, they will find a mate and begin building their nests. Both the male and female will painstakingly gather small globs of mud, with grass, hair and feathers to build it's nest securely against a vertical surface.

The nest will take from six to 15 days to construct, with the result being a deep, cup-shaped structure that is open at the top. In many cases, the swallows will come back to the nest to breed over several seasons, only putting new mud on the structure to keep it strong.

During their summer stay, they will have two clutches. The first clutch will have on average five eggs while the second clutch will have only four eggs. Both male and female will incubate the eggs, with the young appearing in about 13 to 15 days.

Once the young are 12 days old, they will keep the nest clean by backing up to the edge of the nest and defecating over the side. This is why many people consider the birds “to be messy”.

After the nesting season is over it will be time to make their migration to warmer territory. The barn swallows will gather around a water source, where they will form flocks ranging from 100 to 1000 birds, and fly to warmer territory.

Keeping Barn Swallows Away from the House

When summer comes us humans enjoy being able to sit out on one's porch with a cup of coffee and just enjoy the moment. However, two dive-bombing swallows making a nest can quickly disrupt that tranquility. Many have had this problem, and I have to include myself with the many. However, if you catch the problem early, you can get control of the situation without much trouble to you or the bird. Here are some helpful suggestions.

1. If you do not want a swallow making nests in the eaves of the porch or house you will have to keep a watchful eye beginning in mid April, when swallows begin to mate. Once you see them darting around the eaves look for the nests, then with a water hose break the nest up. You may have to do it several times. I have found them to be persistent birds.

If they do build a nest under the eaves of your house, be forewarned, they are extremely protective of their nesting area. They will come swooping down at you, chirping and dive-bombing you from what will seem like every direction. Thus, it is important to catch the birds in the building process, because once the nest is built, you may find your porch unapproachable for about 20 days. 20 days is when the young will leave the nest.

2. You can hang a plastic hawk on the porch.

3. If you know where the birds nest, you can cover the area with netting or chicken wire.

4. You can use a bird deterrent like Tanglefoot. Tanglefoot is a sticky gel that you can put on surfaces where swallows usually nest. The birds will look for another nesting location because they do not like the sticky gel on their feet. (This is just one sample of a sticky repellent that can be used to deter unwanted bird nesting.) I'm not one to use this sticky repellent becauses I like the fact that they eat insects, which include mosquitoes.

To conclude, barn swallows are natural insect exterminators, which give their services at no cost. The only problem you will have to deal with is finding a nice place for them to nest, which many times can be solved with an opened-faced birdhouse with a roof that is located away from your house.

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