Breeding Bird Atlas 2 Species Accounts
- Nearly ubiquitous and stable
- Action/monitoring needed
The Barn Swallow is probably the most well-known and well-liked member of its clan. Barn Swallows are handsome birds, with pleasing color patterns of buff, red, and metallic blue; elegantly forked tails; and a penchant for low-altitude aerobatics. Ball fields and farm fields are among their preferred feeding areas, where they are able to actively skim the surface of the grass in search of flying insects. True to their name, they often construct their mud-and-grass nests in barns, though they can show up almost anywhere. Since they are not cavity nesters, they are afforded some protection from House Sparrow competition; however, their status in the state is still uncertain.
Historic StatusPrior to the arrival of European settlers to Massachusetts, Barn Swallows nested in caves, under ledges, and in other similar places that provided a roof over their heads (Forbush 1929). Once human-made structures began dotting the landscape, the birds quickly took advantage of them as nesting sites (Forbush 1929). One might surmise that the end of the farming era in Massachusetts should have led to a decline in the species’ abundance in Massachusetts. In 1900, two chroniclers went so far as to say that Barn Swallows were “gradually losing ground in the eastern portions of the state as the old-fashioned barns become replaced by modern structures” (Howe & Allen 1901). This was clearly not entirely the case, however. The species ultimately adapted to twentieth-century Massachusetts and continued to thrive.
Atlas 1 DistributionThe results from Atlas 1 showed that Barn Swallows were nearly ubiquitous in the western part of the state. Barring a few blocks in the Berkshire Transition and a handful in the southern Connecticut River Valley, Barn Swallows were found in every block in western Massachusetts, and were more often Confirmed than not. While the species was generally well distributed, there were some notable breaks in Barn Swallow distribution across the Lower Worcester Plateau region. The Coastal Plains, where historic barns and farm sites were perhaps most threatened by development, showed the first signs of decline for the species. Distribution was also patchy in the eastern Boston Basin, where development was most intense. Still, Barn Swallows were found all throughout the Bristol/Narragansett Lowlands and in just over 75% of Cape Cod and the Islands.
Atlas 2 Distribution and ChangeAlthough technically listed as stable in this report, Barn Swallows showed a slight increase in block occupancy between the Atlases, from 862 blocks in Atlas 1 to 921 in Atlas 2. The latter number is likely close to the saturation point for Massachusetts, making the Barn Swallow one of the state's most prevalent species in modern times. Yet, despite the obvious presence of the species across the state, many observers had a difficult time gathering Confirming evidence of breeding activity during Atlas 2. Perhaps those notable breaks in Atlas 1, some of which increased during Atlas 2, mirrored the loss of old barns across Massachusetts, and represent a harbinger of things to come for the Barn Swallow. No region had a net loss of Barn Swallows greater than the Bristol/Narragansett Lowlands’ 5 blocks, but such abandoned blocks were widely distributed and imply habitat changes at the local level.
Atlas 1 Map
Atlas 2 Map
Atlas Change Map
|Atlas 1||Atlas 2||Change|
|Ecoregion||# Blocks||% Blocks||% of Range||# Blocks||% Blocks||% of Range||Change in # Blocks||Change in % Blocks|
|Marble Valleys/Housatonic Valley||39||100.0||4.5||38||97.4||4.1||-1||-2.6|
|Lower Berkshire Hills||28||100.0||3.2||26||83.9||2.8||-2||-7.4|
|Connecticut River Valley||51||91.1||5.9||55||84.6||6.0||-1||-2.1|
|Lower Worcester Plateau||64||86.5||7.4||72||90.0||7.8||1||1.9|
|S. New England Coastal Plains and Hills||235||87.0||27.3||266||94.0||28.9||9||4.0|
|Bristol and Narragansett Lowlands||98||92.5||11.4||95||83.3||10.3||-5||-5.0|
|Cape Cod and Islands||106||77.9||12.3||117||81.3||12.7||3||2.5|