9 Fascinating Barn Swallow Facts

Updated: Jan. 26, 2024

From symbolism to their bug catching abilities, there's a lot to learn about a barn swallow. Learn about their nests, eggs and more.

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1. Barn Swallows Are World Travelers

An adult barn swallow gracefully glides over a marsh.Glenn Bartley / glennbartley.com
An adult barn swallow gracefully glides over a marsh.

Barn swallows are found all over the world. You can spot a barn swallow on six continents: North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. They’re most common over fields, farmland and water. They are a long-distance migrant that can be seen at many spring migration hotspots across America.

See expert tips to identify more types of swallows.

2. Barn Swallows and Early Conservation

George Grinnell played a huge role in early conservation. After he became editor of Forest and Stream magazine in 1876, he launched a campaign to stop barn swallows and egrets from being hunted for hat feathers.

Learn how to identify and attract a purple martin.

3. Barn Swallow Meaning and Symbolism

An illustration of a barn swallow flying through the air.Getty Images / Andrew_Howe
An illustration of a barn swallow flying through the air.

Traditionally, British sailors would get a barn swallow tattoo after traveling 5,000 nautical miles. The bird symbolized the hope of the sailor returning home or to a loved one. There are other birds that carry deep symbolism. Here’s what it means if you see a cardinal.

4. Barn Swallow Nests

barn swallow nestCourtesy Alexander Harkness
Swallows line their nests with feathers

Male and female pairs build an open cup-shaped nest together, working into the base, dried grass and white feathers to provide a soft lining. Feathers are popular nest-lining items for several kinds of swallows. Barn swallows commonly nest in the eaves of houses. During the breeding season, keep an eye out for puddles on your property. You may see these birds collecting bits of mud for their nests. If you’re lucky, they may come back to the same nesting spots each year.

Learn more about swallow nests and nesting habits.

5. Barn Swallow Eggs

An adult barn swallow flies up to a nest with young awaiting their next meal.Daniel Grundmann
An adult barn swallow flies up to a nest with young awaiting their next meal.

Each nest holds four to five bird eggs on average. Eggs are very pale, elongated ovals with reddish brown spots. Breeding pairs have one or two broods a year.

Cliff swallow vs barn swallow: find out how to spot the differences.

6. What Do Barn Swallows Eat?

Some experts suggest that one barn swallow can gobble up to 850 bugs a day. They’re on the hunt for larger insects like flies, beetles and wasps. Tree swallows have a more varied diet.

7. Barn Swallow Flight

These birds are commonly seen swooping low over fields or water, eating their food on the go. But they’re also known to look for prey up to 100 feet in the air.

Discover 7 fascinating facts about swift birds.

8. Will Barn Swallows Nest in a Bird House?

barn swallow nest, do birds reuse nestsCourtesy Judy Mayhew
Baby barn swallows inside a nest

Barn swallows will gladly take up residence on a nest shelf or a nest box. Visit the NestWatch website to learn about nest shelves and where to place them.

These birds prefer the eaves of roofs and under structures like bridges. Before permeant man-made structures were common in North America, barn swallows primarily nested in caves.

Barn swallows sometimes raise a different brood in the same nest. Learn which other birds reuse their nests.

9. How to Attract Barn Swallows

Barn swallows skip most feeders, including suet feeders. They like areas with clear airspace and plenty of bugs. But if you put out crushed eggshells, they may take a nibble. This helps them with digestion and gives them a boost of calcium.

Next, learn how to make a purple martin gourd house.