Big Barn Study: Barn Swallows & Cliff Swallows

Adult barn swallow © Connie Gregory
Adult barn swallow © Connie Gregory

The nimble and graceful swallow family is familiar to many residents of Massachusetts, gracing our skies with their aerial acrobatics each spring and summer. However, swallows and other aerial insectivores (animals that eat ‘on the wing’) are not doing well in the Commonwealth and elsewhere.

Mass Audubon’s State of the Birds identified the cliff swallow as a bird that is rapidly declining and in need of urgent conservation action. Barn swallow trends in the state are less clear, but they show signs of wide-ranging decline, to the extent that the species was recently added to the endangered list in Canada. The reason for these declines is currently unknown, but conservation biologists agree that we need to learn more, and quickly.  Learn more about why we are studying swallows

How You Can Help

We need more information about where and how these birds are making their living in Massachusetts. You can help by visiting a barn (in use or abandoned), a bridge, or an overpass near you three times between May 25 and July 8 and watch for nesting swallows. Learn more about where to look.

The timing of the visits is up to you—they can be spread out over the season or can be three days in a row. Three visits are necessary so that we can use a technique called Occupancy Modeling, which helps answer the question: If we look for a bird, and don’t find it, is it really not there, or did we just miss it?

While we prefer that you go into the study “blind” (i.e., not knowing if there are swallows at the site you choose), we welcome all reports of swallow sightings. For each visit, we want to know whether each species is Present or Absent. We’d also be interested in knowing how many of each species are present per site.

Additional Resources

Learn more about swallows and get help identifying barn swallows and cliff swallows.

Enter your findings into our online database

Each time you log on with your email address via the orange button above, you’ll be able to see entries from your previous visit(s) and enter new data.

A Note on Safety

Please use common sense while participating in this study. We strongly suggest that all observations be made from a distance, with binoculars. By using this method and hanging around the site for a little while (15 minutes or so), you will be likely to see swallow activity and keep disturbance to the birds to a minimum.

Do not try to enter private property without permission from the property owner. Avoid entering structures that appear unsound, or have potentially hazardous objects strewn about. Avoid crossing busy roads or crawling under culverts. Please note that before you are able to enter any data to our website, you will be asked if you have adhered to these basic access and safety guidelines.