Species Profile and Threats Database

For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed marine
Listed migratory - CAMBA, JAMBA, ROKAMBA
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
List of Migratory Species (13/07/2000) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000b) [Legislative Instrument].
Declaration under section 248 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of Marine Species (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000c) [Legislative Instrument].
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - Listed Migratory Species - Approval of an International Agreement (Commonwealth of Australia, 2007h) [Legislative Instrument].
Non-statutory Listing Status
IUCN: Listed as Least Concern (Global Status: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: 2013.1 list)
Scientific name Hirundo rustica [662]
Family Hirundinidae:Passeriformes:Aves:Chordata:Animalia
Species author Linnaeus,1758
Infraspecies author  
Distribution map Species Distribution Map

This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.

Illustrations Google Images

Scientific name: Hirundo rustica

Common name: Barn Swallow

Other names: Swallow, Common Swallow, House Swallow, Chimney Swallow, European Swallow, East Asian Swallow, Eastern Swallow, Eastern Barn Swallow.

This species is conventionally accepted as Hirundo rustica (Christidis & Boles 2008). Six subspecies are known: Hirundo rustica rustica which breeds in Eurasia and northern Africa; H.r. transitivia from southern Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, west Jordan and Israel; H.r. savignii from the Egyptian delta region; H.r. gutturalis which winters on northern Australian coasts, New Guinea, Indonesia and southeast Asia and breeds from the eastern Himalayas to Japan, Korea and northeast Burma; H.r. erythrogaster which breeds in North America, including Alaska, Canada, and central Mexico; and H.r. tytleri which breeds in eastern Russia and may also reach Australia (Higgins et al 2006; Turner & Rose 1989).

The Barn Swallow is a small bird with steel-blue coloured upperparts, white underparts and a rufous-chestnut forehead, chin and throat. A well-defined blue breast-band, and long outer tail feathers help distinguish the species. Sexes are similar but females lack the length in tail streamers (tail feathers are forked in both sexes), and the white markings on outer tail feathers are also shorter. Juveniles generally have duller colouration than adults (Higgins et al. 2006). The average length is 15–18 cm and weight is approximately 17 grams (Higgins et al. 2006). Barn Swallows form large flocks, which can number in the thousands, when not breeding (Turner & Rose 1989).

The Barn Swallow usually occurs in northern Australia, on Cocos-Keeling Island, Christmas Island (Stokes et al. 1984; Stokes 1988), Ashmore Reef (Higgins et al. 2006), and patchily along the north coast of the mainland from the Pilbara region, Western Australia, to Fraser Island in Queensland. The species has been recorded irregularly further south in Western Australia, in areas such as Derby and Carnarvon, and in South Australia near Koolunga, Roxby Downs, Nantawarra and south of Innamincka (Higgins et al. 2006). Vagrants have also been recorded as far south as Sydney (Blakers et al. 1984; Gill 1970; Pizzey 1980; Schodde & Mason 1999; Slater 1961). One unconfirmed report is from Lake Woorinen, Victoria (Higgins et al. 2006).

The Barn Swallow breeds throughout the northern hemisphere in temperate and subtropical regions of North America, Europe, northern Africa and Asia. The species migrates to the southern hemisphere to spend the boreal winter (Cramp 1988). The subspecies H.r. gutteralis breeds in east Asia (China, Japan and Taiwan) and reaches northern Australia annually (Blakers et al. 1984; Cramp 1988).

The species is estimated to occupy an area of approximately 51 700 000 km2 (Birdlife International 2010a).

An overall estimate of the total number of Barn swallows worldwide is 190 000 000 (Birdlife International 2010). In Australia, flocks of 220 and 300 birds are noted, but no estimates of total abundance have been recorded (Blakers et al. 1984; Slater 1961).

A decrease in population numbers in the 1970s and 1980s was recorded in Britain, western Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Romania and the Baltic Republics of the former Soviet Union, while some increases were noted in Switzerland and Israel (Cramp 1988). In North America, abundance has decreased in central and western Alaska since the 1920s (Turner & Rose 1989).

When breeding in Europe and north Africa, the Barn Swallow utilises open country with water or low moist green vegetation, such as pastures and farm crops, near margins of wetlands and human settlements. The species usually avoids densely populated areas. The Barn Swallow occurs from sea level up to about 3000 m above sea level. The bird prefers areas with a good supply of accessible artificial structures, such as barns, sheds and bridges for nesting and plenty of overhead wires or bare branches and twigs for perching, sunning and preening (Cramp 1988;Turner & Rose 1989).


In Australia, the Barn Swallow is recorded in open country in coastal lowlands, often near water, towns and cities. Birds are often sighted perched on overhead wires (Pizzey 1980; Blakers et al. 1984), and also in or over freshwater wetlands, paperbark Melaleuca woodland, mesophyll shrub thickets and tussock grassland (Schodde & Mason 1999).

Asia-Pacific region

In New Guinea, the species is known mainly from large freshwater swamps utilising dead trees for perches and nearby grassland for foraging (Coates 1990a). In east Indonesia, the Barn Swallow is also recorded in mangroves (Coates & Bishop 1997). In the Philippines, the species is recorded in forested mountain passes (Kennedy et al.2000).

Northern hemisphere

In the northern hemisphere, Barn Swallows are found roosting in reedbeds (Cramp 1988; Lekagul & Round 1991; Coates & Bishop 1997) with up to 100 000 birds recorded roosting together at some sites in late summer. In cold weather, the species may also roost communally in buildings (Cramp 1988).

The Barn Swallow first breeds at one to two years of age (Cramp 1988). Whilst Barn Swallows are recorded to live less than four years, one known bird is recorded as being 15 years 11 months (Turner & Rose 1989).

Barn Swallows may nest solitarily or in colonial groups of up to 100 pairs (Møller 1985) on small ledges on vertical surfaces, such as beams or window-ledges of buildings, and usually two to five metres above ground. Though the species was originally a cave nesting species, it is now rarely found nesting in caves or trees (Cramp 1988; Cornell 2009). An open cup shaped nest is made of mud and grass, lined with grass stems, hair and feathers (Cornell 2009). Both parents attend to chick provisioning (Saino et al. 2001). The breeding season extends from April-August in western Europe, starting earlier (March) in the south and later (May) in the north of the species' range (Cramp 1988). Double and, sometimes, triple broods are raised per season (Turner & Rose 1989).

Barn Swallows lay from two to seven eggs, and hatching occurs approximately two weeks from the last egg being laid (Saino et al. 2001). Overall, breeding success from laying to fledging is recorded as: 71.9% (n=1906 eggs) in Britain; 76.3% (n= 472 eggs) in southern Scotland; and 88.2% in western Germany (n= 6646 eggs). Overall, in western Germany, annual production per pair of Barn Swallows is 7.3 young (Cramp 1988). Intraspecific nest parasitism (where a female lays an egg in another's nest, mostly a neighbouring nest) and males copulating with more than one female has been recorded in larger colonies of Barn Swallows (Møller 1985, 1987). Nest guarding is undertaken by both males and females (Møller 1985, 1987).

The Barn Swallow is almost entirely insectivorous, consuming mainly flying insects (Cramp 1988). The species feeds by aerial pursuit (sallying) or gleaning or skimming insects from plants or water surface. They feed mainly low over the ground or water (Cramp 1988; Coates & Bishop 1997; Higgins et al. 2006; Turner & Rose 1989). Occasionally, birds are recorded feeding on clear ground, such as roads, paths and beaches, by walking around and picking at the surface (Cramp 1988; Turner & Rose 1989).

Insect diet

Insect Orders recorded in the summer diet of the Barn Swallow in the western Palearctic region (Europe and northern Africa) include Ephemeroptera (mayflies), Odonata (damsel flies), Plecoptera (stoneflies), Orthoptera (grasshoppers), Dermaptera (earwigs), Psocoptera, Hemiptera (bugs), Neuroptera (lacewings), Lepidoptera (adult and larvae moths and butterflies), Trichoptera (caddis flies), Diptera (flies), Hymenoptera (bees, ants and wasps) and Coleoptera (beetles) (Cramp 1988).

The species is also recorded as taking spiders, sandhoppers (Amphipoda), stickleback (a fish, Gasterosteidae), bread, berries, grit and eggshell. In the non-breeding range, a smaller variety of insects in the diet is recorded, with the Barn Swallow more dependent on Hymenoptera (bees, ants, wasps) in Africa than in Britain. The species is also recorded eating termites (Isoptera) (Cramp 1988). No information on diet in Australia is known (Barker & Vestjens 1990).

Spring and summer

The Barn Swallow breeds in the boreal spring and summer almost throughout the temperate and subtropical northern hemisphere, south to the Tropic of Cancer, and then migrates to the southern hemisphere, Indian subcontinent, and southeast Asia including the Philippines, Indonesia and Melanesia (Cramp 1988; Turner & Rose 1989) and northern Australia (Blakers et al. 1984).


Barn Swallows breeding in northern America spend the boreal winter in central and southern America. Those birds breeding in Europe leave in September and early October to spend winter mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, returning mostly mid-April to mid-May. Passage of these birds during migration is on a broad front (Cramp 1988). Some populations, such as the subspecies H.r. savignii of Egypt, remain as residents in the warmer parts of their breeding range (Cramp 1988).

The subspecies H. r. gutteralis migrates to spend the boreal winter in areas from India through southeast Asia to Indonesia (Cramp 1988) with fewer numbers reaching New Guinea and northern Australia from September to March. Individuals are recorded on mainland Australia mostly from November to March (Blakers et al. 1984; Coates 1990a; Gill 1970; Pizzey 1980; Slater 1961; Stokes et al. 1984; Stokes 1988).

Within Australia, the species is most likely found in congregations of other swallows or martins (Hirundinidae) and swifts (Apodidae) in open spaces such as farmlands, near wetlands and settlements in coastal northern Australia, Christmas Island and Cocos-Keeling Island (Higgins et al. 2006). The Barn Swallow can be confused with the Welcome Swallow H. neoxena (Pizzey 1980). However, the Barn Swallow is larger and more slender, with its large wings almost fully enveloping the body when at rest, making the head and 'undercarriage' of the Barn Swallow appear smaller than that of the Welcome Swallow. The Barn Swallow's distinguising features are its long tail, the forked nature of its tail feathers, and the rufous colouring of its head, confined to its forehead/forecrown, which is slightly darker compared to the Welcome Swallow. The black lores of the Barn Swallow also extend further down the sides of its face than in the Welcome Swallow (Higgins et al. 2006).

A past and current threat to the Barn Swallow is loss of habitat (Cramp 1988). Historically, pesticides were responsible for a significant decrease in population numbers in Israel during the 1950s (Cramp 1988).

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Natural System Modifications:Natural System Modifications:Indirect and direct habitat loss due to human activities Hirundo rustica in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006nk) [Internet].
Pollution:Agricultural Effluents:Pesticide application Hirundo rustica in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006nk) [Internet].

Barker, R.D. & W.J.M. Vestjens (1990). The Food of Australian Birds. 2. Passerines. Melbourne, Victoria: CSIRO.

BirdLife International (2010a). Species factsheet: Hirundo rustica. [Online]. Available from:

Blakers, M., S.J.J.F. Davies & P.N. Reilly (1984). The Atlas of Australian Birds. Melbourne, Victoria: Melbourne University Press.

Christidis, L. & W.E. Boles (2008). Systematics and Taxonomy of Australian Birds. Collingwood, Victoria: CSIRO Publishing.

Coates, B.J. (1990a). The Birds of Papua New Guinea Including the Bismarck Archipelago and Bougainville. Volume 2 Passerines. Alderley, Queensland: Dove Publications.

Coates, B.J. & K.D. Bishop (1997). A Guide to the Birds of Wallacea Sulawesi, The Moluccas and Lesser Sunda Islands, Indonesia. Alderley, Queensland: Dove Publications.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University (2009). All About Birds. [Online]. Available from:

Cramp, S. (1988). Handbook of the Birds of Europe the Middle East and North Africa. The Birds of the Western Palearctic. Volume 5, Tyrant Flycatchers to Thrushes. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Gill, H.B. (1970). Birds of Innisfail and hinterland. Emu. 70:105-116.

Higgins, P.J., J.M. Peter & S.J. Cowling (2006). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. In: Part A. Boatbill to Larks. Volume 7. Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.

Kennedy, R.S., P.C. Gonzales, E.C. Dickinson, H.C. Miranda & T.H. Fisher (2000). A Guide to the Birds of the Philippines. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Lekagul, B. & P.D. Round (1991). A Guide to the Birds of Thailand. Bangkok: Saha Karn Bhaet.

Møller, A.P. (1985). 'Mixed reproductive strategy and mate guarding in a semi-colonial Passerine, the swallow Hirundo rustica.'. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. 17:401-408.

Møller, A.P. (1987). 'Intraspecific nest parasitism and anti-parasite behaviour in swallows, Hirundo rustica.'. Animal Behavior. 35:247-254.

Pizzey, G. (1980). A Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Collins, Sydney.

Saino, N., M. Incagli, R. Martinelli, R. Ambrosini & A.P. Moller (2001). 'Immunity, growth and begging behaviour of nestling Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica in relation to hatching order.'. Journal of Avian Biology. 32:263-270.

Schodde, R. & I.J. Mason (1999). The Directory of Australian Birds: Passerines. Melbourne, Victoria: CSIRO.

Slater, P. (1961). Palaearctic migrants in the Kimberley Division. I. Eastern Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica gutteralis) at Derby. Western Australian Naturalist. 8:33-36.

Stokes, T. (1988). A review of the birds of Christmas Island, Indian Ocean. Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service Occasional Paper.

Stokes, T., W. Sheils & K. Dunn (1984). Birds of the Cocos - Keeling Islands, Indian Ocean. Emu. 84:23-28.

Turner, A. & C. Rose (1989). Swallows and Martins of the World. Christopher Helm, Bromley, UK.

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This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.

Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Hirundo rustica in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: Accessed Fri, 1 Aug 2014 06:33:08 +1000.