Barn Swallow Conservation

Barn Swallow skimming water © Ken Lee
Barn Swallow © Ken Lee

Barn Swallows, like other swallows, are called "aerial insectivores" because they eat flying insects caught in the air. They are most frequently seen zooming over open grassy areas and water, since these are the types of locations where insects can be found in abundance.

Unlike Tree Swallows—which nest in cavities like nest boxes—Barn Swallows build their nests from mud on the sides of riverbanks, cliffs, or on human-made structures. Frequently, multiple Barn Swallow pairs will nest on the same surface and form colonies.

As humans and their structures became more prevalent in the landscape, Barn Swallows were quick to take advantage of the nice, new sturdy structures that were often located next to muddy farmyards and nearby large open fields.

Barn Swallow nestlings © Alex Shure
Barn Swallow nestlings © Alex Shure

Declining in Parts of Their Range

While still common, Barn Swallows, along with many other aerial insectivores, are showing serious population declines in many portions of their North American range.

Causes of these declines are unclear, but many scientists have looked into the issue. Details can be found in our report.

Download the Report

Colony at Silvio O. Conte NFWR 

Since mid-May 2019, Mass Audubon's Director of Bird Conservation has been collaborating with USFWS managers at the Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge (NFWR) to study how Barn Swallows use an abandoned stable on the property. The study was created in response to the Refuge's announcement that the stable would be demolished in the near future. The purpose of the study was to:

  • Understand the scientific context and behavioral ecology of the Barn Swallows nesting at this site.
  • See if the swallows could be attracted to nest on an adjacent structure, which will remain standing and be protected as nesting habitat for these birds.
  • Determine if there are other Barn Swallow nesting colonies in the area.

A full report on this year's research is now available >

Errata: After we published the final report about Barn Swallow nesting biology at Bri Mar Stable, we discovered information about past nesting activity within the Boat House. These sentences—found in the Abstract and Results sections of the report—have been corrected.

Barn Swallow with wings spread © Donna Sullivan
Barn Swallow © Donna Sullivan

Our Response

Here is Mass Audubon's formal response to the proposed demolition of the abandoned stable:

"If the barn does indeed need to be demolished in the near future, Mass Audubon supports the Refuge’s proposed action, Alternative A—Phased Closure of Stable and Delayed Demolition. We encourage the US Fish and Wildlife Service to use the opportunities under Alterative A to study methods that be used to promote colony relocation on private and public lands. We also support monitoring of Barn Swallows on and around the site during the phased closure process. Mass Audubon's bird conservation staff are willing to advise and support the refuge staff in those efforts."