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Barn Swallow
Hirundo rustica

Common/Eastern Swallow, Layang Layang Hijrah (Malay)

Barn Swallows eat insects, taking them during flight. They appear to have a preference for flies and mosquitos (Diptera). To feast on swarming insects, they may join other birds like Swifts. But unlike Swifts which simply trawl the air with their mouths open, Swallows actually chase after individual prey and perform aerial acrobatics to catch them. Swallows also hunt at lower levels than Swifts, particularly during wet weather.

Unlike Swifts, Swallows can perch and also come to the ground to drink or gather nesting material. But they can also sip drinks of water on the wing.

Breeding: Barn Swallows breed in the north from America through Europe to China. Females appear to prefer males with long tails, as these show that he is well fed and strong since extra nutrients are required to grow a longer tail. They court with aerial chases, the pair often perching on a branch to preen each other. They may mate in flight!
Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
Main features: Small (15cm); wing long; tail streamers.

Adult: Upperparts and breast band metallic blue; forehead, throat, upper breast chestnut; underparts white.
barn swallow on a perch
Photo from
Morten Strange
Male: Longer tail.

Juvenile: Duller and lacks tail streamers; upperpart dark brown; chestnut replaced with pinkish buff; breast band brown. Lacks elongated outer tail feathers.

Call: Generally quiet. Described as twittering calls while in flight: twit twit. Each has its own song, but they may sing in chorus.

In flight: Graceful swoops with regular wingbeats.

Status in Singapore: Very common winter visitor throughout the island including North and South offshore islands.

World distribution: Nearly worldwide.

Similar birds:
House Swift
(Apus nepalensis): Flies with rapid shallow flapping interspersed by gliding; wings longer, slender scimitar-shaped; lacks tail streamers.
Pacific Swallow (H. tahitica): Lacks the Barn's black breast band, whiter underparts. Also lacks the tail streamers, but not diagnostic because the Barn may lose its tail streamers during a moult.

Classification: Family Hirundinidae. World 89 species, Singapore 5 species.
Barn Swallows build solid nests out of mud pellets brought by the beakful from puddles and river banks, combined with dry long grasses. With both parents participating, these pellets are arranged much like bricks to form half-bowls or saucers. Up to 1,000 trips may be made to bring the mudballs to make the nest. The nest is lined with fine grasses, hair, curly feathers. Barn Swallows usually nest in man-made structures that provide shelter (because the mud would disintegrate in the rain) and warmth. Previously, they built in cliffs or caves, but now prefer man-made structures such as bridges. However, they show a strong preference for buildings in which cattle or other domestic stock are kept. Hence their name. Although a few may nest in the same area, they do not nest close to each other like some other Swallows or Swifts.

4-5 white brown-spotted eggs are laid. Both parents incubate, although the female does most of it, for 15-17 days. The other parent feeds the brooding parent, and both rest in the same nest at night. Hatchlings are born naked and helpless, fledging in 18-23 days. They may raise more than one brood in a good season, with their latest fledged juveniles helping out. When the young are able to fly, the parents may continue to feed them and do so on the wing!

Migration: In winter, Barn Swallows migrate in southwards to South America, Africa, India and Southeast Asia. They travel in huge flocks and may cover up to 11,000km. Those that visit Singapore breed in eastern Asia. They are seen year-round in Singapore because the timetable of adult and juvenile migrations overlap. Barn Swallows are often seen roosting in large flocks perched on overhead wires or man-made structures. Madoc recounts that the birds roosted shoulder-to-shoulder on telephone and electrical wires in such density that extra strong wires had to be installed in affected areas!

Status and threats: Barn Swallows are common in Singapore and not considered at risk. They are often considered a pest because of their untidy and messy nests near human habitation. However, they play an important role in controlling insect populations and can act as a natural form of pest control in cultivated areas.

LINKS
  • Animal Diversity Website by Rebecca E. Line: fact sheet on all aspects of their features, habits, habitat and status and threats.
  • Birds of Nova Scotia from the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History: fact sheet on features, breeding, migration; and lovely drawing.
  • Birds of Manitoba On line: fact sheet on migration and breeding.
  • Fact sheet on breeding, migration, sound clip of their call, photo of nesting birds.
  • Patuxtent Wildlife Research Centre: fact sheet, sound clip of their call, photos of the birds and their eggs.
  • Maury's Place which features Pennsylvania's flora and fauna: fact sheet with a lovely drawing of the bird.
  • A replica of the complete John James Audubon's Birds of America (1840-1844) On a website by creative multimedia corp: fact sheet with full text, color plates, figures and bird calls.
REFERENCES
  To buy these references & others, visit
Nature's Niche
  • Morten Strange, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Malaysia and Singapore: including Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Borneo", Periplus, 2000 (p. 224: description, voice, habits, distribution, status, photo).
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Pocket Checklist of the Birds of the Republic of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1999 (Abundance, status, Chinese and Malay names).
  • Lim Kim Seng and Dana Gardner, "Birds: An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing Ltd., 1997 (p. 105-106: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, diagram, number of species).
  • Morten Strange and Allen Jeyarajasingam, "Birds: A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing, 1993 (p. 86: description, distribution, habits, habitat, photo).
  • Clive Briffett, "A Guide to the Common Birds of Singapore", BP Science Centre,1992 (p. 93: habit, habitat).
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Vanishing Birds of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1992 (p. 13: status in Singapore).
  • Christopher Hails, "Birds of Singapore" illustrated by Frank Jarvis, Times Editions, 1987 reprinted 1995 (p. 115: habits, description, status in Singapore, and lovely drawings of the birds).
  • M W F Tweedie, "Common Birds of the Malay Peninsula", Longman,1970 (p. 37: brief description, drawing).
  • G C Madoc, "An Introduction to Malayan Birds", Malayan Nature Society, 1947 (p. 130: description, habits, habitat).
  • Dr. Harold G Cogger (et. al), "Encyclopedia of Animals"; Swallows by P A Clancey, 1993 (p. 394-395: habits, habitats and photo of nest).
  • David Attenborough, "The Life of Birds", Princeton University Press, 1998 (p. 91: hunting methods; p. 231: how they build their nests).
  • John Palmer (ed.), "Exploring the Secrets of Nature", Reader's Digest, 1994 (p. 259: about female's preference for long tails, and photo).
 
By Ria Tan, 2001