Barn Swallow

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Hirundinidae
  • Genus: Hirundo
  • Species: H. rustica


While living on a farm, I’ve come to frequently interact with barn swallows. Because of this I decided Barn Swallows would be the perfect animal for me to observe. Through the course of several weeks I have observed  and researched the behavior of barn swallow’s directly. As well as researched the cultural and historical influence.

Observation Site

Observation took place on my family farm. Like previous years, the barn swallows took up residence in our barn. The barn swallows primarily kept close to the barn where their nests were located.

Map of property:

Photographs of Barn:

Front of Barn

Inside of milking parlor (Nest #1)

Nest #1

Hay Barn (Nest #2)

Nest #2

Back Stall of Barn (Nest #3)

Nest #3


Over the course of eight weeks I have watched the barn swallows and observed the changes in their behavior. Territory was reestablished and mated pairs, both old and new, have built their nests. They’ve gone from guarding and watching over their land, to singing to each other and collecting materials to build their nests to start their families.

Excerpt from – April 22nd, Week 3

3:20 – Barn swallow circling several times in front of barn.

Three or four Barn Swallows chase a Violet-Green Swallow around.

All Leave

3:32 – Barn Swallow pair return to parlor. Shrilling chirping and calling occurs. One leaves and is swooping. Shrill chirping from parlor heard again.

3:35 – Rapid chirping from parlor.

Three Barn Swallows fly over, chirping from Parlor. Chirping back and forth occurring in Parlor.

3:38 – One Swallow swoops over Mellow’s field, whistles 3 times. Then enters parlor from back opening.

Pair is chirping and flying overhead in Mellow’s field (very high up).

3:45 – Pair returns to parlor along with another. Rapid chirping occurs.

One flies through the parlor, and the pair leaves, loops, and then returns.

Rapid chirping back and forth, punctuated with clicks.

Frequent coming and going for all three.

Trio circles over house and Mellow’s field (two stick very close, while the third follows)

Fly past Boy’s field.

3:50 – Quiet, no birds in sight.

3:51 – Violet green swallow circle over barn chirping. One barn swallow returns and follows them.

Another barn swallow shortly after follows as well. Disappear from sight, heading past front field.

Pair seen going over porch to Mellow’s field.

Seem to follow violet-green swallow’s whenever they come close to barn.

Barn swallow circles several times next to barn, and appears to kick a violet-green swallow when it passes over.


Character Development and Animation

I also began to develop my own character based upon my observations of the barn swallows.


Here are two examples of the animation I developed based upon my observations of the barn swallows. For the puppet animation, I created roughly a dozen variations of the wings in order to create the appearance of the wings flapping of being stretched.

The drawn animation uses dynamic holds for the gliding animation. The flapping sequence uses dynamic hold for the body, while the wings themselves are animated.

Physical Appearance

Medium sized swallows are between six and 7 inches long. Adults have steely-blue upperparts, and a chestnut forehead. The tail is deeply forked, with white spots on inner webs. Length of outermost tail-streamers varies between sexes and ages, but is always much greater than in any other North American swallow species.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Adult: Sexes are similar, but males have longer outer tail-streamers than females. They also tend to be a darker chestnut on their underparts, while females are paler. Under wings are grey and orange.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology






Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Juvenile: Plumage is similar to adults but they have paler underparts. Their tails are not as forked and also have a white band across the top.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Similar Species: Cliff Swallow’s are similar in voice and nesting habits, but the shape of tail (wedge instead of forked) and color of the plumage are different.





They fly at various heights, ranging from just above ground to over 25 m. Flight consists of bursts of straight flight, longer than those of other swallows. They frequently alter course slightly to the left or right. Flight may be circular when feeding over an insect concentration, such as around cattle and birds are capable of sharper turns and dives than other swallows. Increased maneuverability is a consequence of the highly forked tail; outer tail-streamers deflect leading edge of tail, resulting in higher aerodynamic lift and allowing tighter turns. Barn Swallow’s only go on the ground to collect mud, grass, or feathers for their nest. Or to pick up bits of gravel or (rarely) moribund insects, to sunbathe, or to seek refuge from strong winds. When moving while perched along a wire, tree branch, or other perching substrate using a sideways walk. However, when on the ground they walk exclusively.

Life Cycle

Barn swallows form breeding pairs in the spring when they return to their breeding grounds. The male tries to attract a female by spreading his wings and singing. Barn swallows often mate in the air. Both parents build the nest.

Nests are made of mud and lined with grass and feathers. The barn swallows gather mud and roll it into pellets and then carry it in their bills back to their nesting site. The cup-shaped nest is built in the rafters or eaves of buildings, on bridges, in mine shafts, or on other man made structures. Occasionally, the barn swallow builds a nest under a rock ledge or cliff face, but that is rare. As their name suggests, barns are one of the favorite locations for barn swallows to build their nests. As many as five to eight pairs of barn swallows may use a single barn as a nesting site.

The female lays four to six eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs and care for the young. The eggs take around two weeks to hatch and the chicks fledge when they are about three weeks old. The parents continue to feed the chicks for up to a week after they fledge. The female may have two broods a year. The same pair may mate for several years.


The barn swallow is an insectivore, and only consumes insects such as grasshoppers,beetlesmoths, and other flying insects. The barn swallow zig-zags through the air in pursuit of its prey. It drinks while flying by skimming along the surface of water.


Vancouver Avian Research Centre

In North America, the barn swallow breeds from Alaska east to Newfoundland, Canada and south to California and east to northern Florida. The barn swallow is a Neotropical migrant. It leaves its breeding range in the fall and travels south to winter in Mexico, Central America, and South America. It travels by day, eating as it flies. It travels as many as 600 miles a day. Barn swallows migrate in large groups. The barn swallow also breeds in northern Europe, northeastern Asia, the Middle East, and Northern Africa. European and Asian barn swallows winter in southern Asia, Indonesia, and Micronesia.


Table from "Vocal Repertoires of Sympatric Barn and Cliff Swallows"


Normal Flight Call

Alarm Call

Cultural History


A well known example of a proverb featuring a swallow is, “One swallow doesn’t make a summer” from one of Aesop’s Fables.
According to the story, a young man sees a swallow on a warm winter day. Since swallows are usually seen only during spring, the young man thinks that spring has arrived. As a result he sells his winter coat and then proceeds to drink with the money he has made. A few days later, it becomes extremely cold again and the young man shivering in the cold realizes that one swallow does not necessarily imply that summer has arrived.

Tattoo Symbolism

  • Coming home safely (As Swallows always return home, no matter where they are)
  • Love and Loyalty to the family (Swallows mate for life)
  • The return home after a struggle
  • A hardship survived
  • A victory gained.

Nautical Meaning
A swallow tattoo was used to make the completion of a 5000 nautical mile voyage, as well as the hope of safe return. Often Swallows were tattooed facing one another on the chest, one when 5000 miles has been completed, and another when 10 000 miles had been completed.

In addition, there is a legend stating that if the sailor does not survive his travels, and ends up drowning, the birds will take his soul from the water up into heaven.

Other occasions sailors used to get swallow tattoos:

  • After sailing all 7 seas.
  • After sailing around the horns(the bottom of Africa and South America).
  • 1 swallow tattoo after crossing the equator and another one when coming back.
Additional Cultural Meanings of Swallow Tattoo’s
  • In some cultures, the first swallow of spring is a very fortunate sight because it is an omen of financial success. To ensure wealth through the year, one must rub two coins together while watching the bird.
  • A tattoo of 2 swallows represents freedom. It is a popular tattoo design amongst people who are just released from prison.
  • A swallow tattoo on the fists does symbolize that the person who wears it is a good fighter (in the UK). The tattoo is supposed to give you fast hands in a fight.
  • Sometimes a swallow can also be seen in gang tattoos.
  • Swallow tattoos, as wells as bluebird and sparrow tattoos (jailbirds), are also a symbol of white supremacy for some people.
Pop Culture Reference – Monty Python


According to a Native American legend, the Barn Swallow stole fire from the sun and brought it down to earth. A wrathful god hurled a firebrand at the swallow, burning its tail. This left it with its trademark forked tail.

In the Renaissance the swallow was a symbol of the Incarnation of Christ. For this reason it appears in scenes of the Annunciation and of the Nativity, nestling under the eaves or in holes in the wall. It was thought that the swallow hibernated in the mud during the winter, and its advent in the spring was looked upon as a rebirth from the death-like state of winter. For this reason it also became a symbol of resurrection.

A swallow was said to have comforted Christ on the cross, calling out “Cheer up! Cheer up!”

Historical Catalysts and influence on human development:

Indirectly led to the founding of the conservation movement in the United States: the destruction of Barn Swallows for the millinery trade apparently prompted George Bird Grinnell’s 1886 editorial in Forest and Stream that led to the founding of the first Audubon Society.

Creative Writing


Back facing inward, gleaming of deep sapphire feathers. With toes clinging to the old wood, you perch atop the half wall of the milking parlor. Ruby red coats our bow and runs down your throat and chest, which quivers as you let forth quick shrill chirps. All the while, your eyes dart to and fro. From my lingering shape in the doorway opposite and the rain pouring just in front of you, the cold hard drops like thunder on the tin roof.

I freeze when I see you clinging there, for the first time you haven’t fled when I come near. I saw you lurch forward, your wings twitching and claws digging in, but you did not leave your perch. I stare and simply watch you, and tread slowly backwards. The rain is falling, and I do not want to force you out to be beaten down by the harsh water.

If there had been a downpour beyond your perch, would you have fled? The vast shape of a bovine is between us, round with calf and heavy with milk. Do you disregard her presence? I wonder how you see me, and what held you back from leaving.


“Barn Swallow.” Barn Swallow. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2010. Web. 31 May 2012. <>.


“ChristStory Bestiary.” ChristStory Swallow Page. Web. 31 May 2012. <>.


DJClayboy. “Airspeed Velocity of a Swallow.” YouTube. YouTube, 21 July 2007. Web. 03 June 2012. <>.


“North American Bird Sounds.” Tyrranids through Certhids. Web. 31 May 2012. <>.


“SIGNS: ANIMALS.” SIGNS: ANIMALS. Web. 31 May 2012. <>.


“Swallow Lore.” Gypsy Magic. June-July 2009. Web. 31 May 2012. <>.


“Swallow Tattoo Designs.” Free Tattoo Designs. Web. 01 June 2012. <>.


Thaevilguy. “Monty Python Holy Grail Are You Suggesting Coconuts Migrate?” YouTube. YouTube, 16 Oct. 2007. Web. 03 June 2012. <>.


“Vancouver Avian Research Centre – Birding Resources.” Vancouver Avian Research Centre – Birding Resources. Web. 31 May 2012. <>.


Vocal Repertoires of Sympatric Barn and Cliff Swallows David E. Samuel The Auk , Vol. 88, No. 4 (Oct., 1971), pp. 839-855


Washington Mutual. “GLAAD Advertising Media Program.” Free As A Barnswallow. 2008. Web. 03 June 2012. <>.