While walking along the water’s edge near Lake Ontario last week, I rounded a bend to find several lovely blue-backed and orange-fronted birds standing at the edge of a large mud puddle. I stopped and they kept working. They were not bathing; they were gathering mud for building nests. When they flew, their forked tails flashed back at me.
Notice the two long tail points between the long wing tips.
These were Barn Swallows. They use mud and some grass to build nests. Often the nests are tucked up under the eaves of a building or under a bridge over a creek or river. As the name suggests they will nest inside barns, too, if a large window to the loft or the door is left open regularly.
Unlike most North American swallows, these birds have true “swallow tails” which divide at the tip into two long narrow points.
Trouble Seems Brewing for Barn Swallows in Canada
Recent breeding surveys suggest the numbers of Barn Swallows across Canada are in decline. There could be many reasons for this. There could be changes in habitat both in their breeding range and in the south where they overwinter. There could be increased predation or decreased success in raising viable chicks.
The situation has changed so much that Barn Swallows are actually listed as threatened in Ontario.
I know we used to see many Barn Swallows and Cliff Swallows nesting along the eaves of a huge boat house near a cottage. Modern metal and fibreglass boats don’t need the protection from the elements that older mahogany steam launches and cedar strip canoes needed. So the boathouse is gone and many others likely went with it. While this could only account for a small percentage decline in the number of nesting sites it likely has not helped.
Aren’t you glad you have hands to carry your building materials?
Please Report any Nesting Barn Swallows
If you see Barn Swallows nesting there is a website where you can report your sightings. The Barn Swallow NestWatch program by Bird Studies Canada has on online form to provide simple but important information. You can fill it out at: http://goo.gl/4X9wb.
If you can monitor the ongoing progress of a nest, there is information about how to report at the website http://www.birdscanada.org/volunteer/pnw.
- One of These Rough-Winged Swallows Is an Imposter
Do you see Barn Swallows each spring? Have you ever turned on the hose to make a mud puddle for them to gather nesting supplies? Please share your experiences with a comment.