Species Profile

Barn Swallow

Scientific Name: Hirundo rustica
Taxonomy Group: Birds
COSEWIC Range: Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: May 2021
COSEWIC Status: Special Concern
COSEWIC Status Criteria:
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This aerial insectivore is among the world’s most widespread birds, with about 6.4 million mature individuals in Canada. It experienced a substantial population decline in North America over more than two decades, beginning in the mid-to-late 1980s. However, the Canadian population has remained largely stable over the past ten years (2009-2019), with a substantial increase in Saskatchewan largely offsetting ongoing declines in several other provinces. Key threats include declining populations of insect prey, increasing frequency of severe temperature fluctuations during spring migration and the breeding season, and in some regions, loss of suitable nesting sites. Although the Canadian population remains large and overall declines have abated, the species may once again become Threatened if threats continue or worsen.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Threatened in May 2011. Status re-examined and designated Special Concern in May 2021.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Threatened
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2017-11-02

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Quick Links: | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | National Recovery Program | Documents

Description

The Barn Swallow is a medium-sized songbird that is easily recognized by its steely-blue upperparts, cinnamon underparts, chestnut throat and forehead, and by its deeply forked tail. Sexes have similar plumage, but males have longer outer tail-streamers than females and tend to be darker chestnut on their underparts.[Updated by COSEWIC - May. 2011]

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Distribution and Population

The Barn Swallow has become closely associated with human rural settlements. It is the most widespread species of swallow in the world, found on every continent except Antarctica. It breeds across much of North America south of the treeline, south to central Mexico. In Canada, it is known to breed in all provinces and territories. It is a long-distance migrant and winters through Central and South America. In Canada, the current Barn Swallow population is estimated at about 2.45 million breeding pairs (about 4.9 million mature individuals). Although the species is still common and widespread, Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data for the period 1970 to 2009 indicate a statistically significant decline of 3.6% per year in Canada, which corresponds to an overall decline of 76% in the 40-year period. Most of the decline started to occur sometime in the mid-1980s. Over the most recent 10-year period (1999 to 2009), BBS data show a statistically significant decline of 3.5% per year, which represents an overall decadal decline of 30%. Regional surveys, such as breeding bird atlases in Ontario and the Maritimes, and the Étude des populations d’oiseaux du Québec, also show significant declines over the long term, as do surveys from the United States. Despite these losses, the distribution and numbers of this species are acknowledged to be far greater than they were before European settlement created a large amount of artificial nesting and foraging habitat that the species readily exploited. [Updated by COSEWIC - May. 2011]

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Habitat

Before European colonization, Barn Swallows nested mostly in caves, holes, crevices and ledges in cliff faces. Following European settlement, they shifted largely to nesting in and on artificial structures, including barns and other outbuildings, garages, houses, bridges, and road culverts. Barn Swallows prefer various types of open habitats for foraging, including grassy fields, pastures, various kinds of agricultural crops, lake and river shorelines, cleared rights-of-way, cottage areas and farmyards, islands, wetlands, and subarctic tundra. [Updated by COSEWIC - May. 2011]

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Biology

The Barn Swallow is social throughout the year, travelling and roosting in flocks during migration and on the wintering grounds. It is socially monogamous, but polygamy is common. The Barn Swallow nests in small, loose colonies that usually contain no more than about 10 pairs. Nests are built largely of mud pellets. Egg-laying starts in the second week of May in southern Canada. Two broods are frequently produced each year, except in the far north. This species forages in the air, and specializes on a diet of flying insects. [Updated by COSEWIC - May. 2011]

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Threats

Although poorly understood, the main causes of the recent decline in Barn Swallow populations are thought to be: 1) loss of nesting and foraging habitats due to conversion from conventional to modern farming techniques; 2) large-scale declines (or other perturbations) in insect populations; and 3) direct and indirect mortality due to an increase in climate perturbations on the breeding grounds (cold snaps). Other limiting factors include high nestling mortality due to high rates of ectoparasitism; and interspecific competition for nest sites with an invasive species (House Sparrow). Additional threats may also be affecting the species during migration and on the wintering grounds, including loss of foraging habitat and exposure to pesticides. [Updated by COSEWIC - May. 2011]

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Protection

Federal Protection

More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

62 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica in Canada (2011-09-09)

    The Barn Swallow is a medium-sized songbird that is easily recognized by its steely-blue upperparts, cinnamon underparts, chestnut throat and forehead, and by its deeply forked tail. Sexes have similar plumage, but males have longer outer tail-streamers than females and tend to be darker chestnut on their underparts.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Barn Swallow (2011-12-08)

    This is one of the world’s most widespread and common landbird species. However, like many other species of birds that specialize on a diet of flying insects, this species has experienced very large declines that began somewhat inexplicably in the mid to late 1980s in Canada. Its Canadian distribution and abundance may still be greater than prior to European settlement, owing to the species’ ability to adapt to nesting in a variety of artificial structures (barns, bridges, etc.) and to exploit foraging opportunities in open, human-modified, rural landscapes. While there have been losses in the amount of some important types of artificial nest sites (e.g., open barns) and in the amount of foraging habitat in open agricultural areas in some parts of Canada, the causes of the recent population decline are not well understood. The magnitude and geographic extent of the decline are cause for conservation concern.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park of Canada (2016-11-22)

    Bruce Peninsula National Park (BPNP) and Fathom Five National Marine Park (FFNMP) lie at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula which separates Georgian Bay from Lake Huron. The peninsula is 90 km in length and its most prominent feature is the Niagara Escarpment which runs along the entire eastern edge. Within BPNP, the escarpment forms the Georgian Bay shoreline and is recognized as part of the core area of the Niagara Escarpment UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.  BPNP was established by the federal government in 1987 to protect a representative example of the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Lowlands natural region. Because of the fragmented nature of the park properties, many of the stresses on the park’s ecosystem originate from outside its boundaries. For this reason, First Nations, local residents, non-governmental organizations, and other groups and land users play an important role in managing, restoring, and protecting the northern Bruce ecosystem. 
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site of Canada (2017-08-24)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site of Canada (Fort Rodd Hill) applies to lands occurring within the boundaries of the site. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at Fort Rodd Hill.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Georgian Bay Islands National Park of Canada (2016-11-22)

    Georgian Bay Islands National Park (GBINP) is located in southeastern Georgian Bay in the heart of Ontario’s cottage country. Georgian Bay is home to the world’s largest freshwater archipelago, the 30,000 Islands, and the park acts as a southern gateway into this area. Comprising 63 dispersed islands and shoals the total area of the park is 14 km2 from the Centennial Group in the south to McQuade Island 50 kilometres northward. Situated just 150 km from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), GBINP is within a half-day’s drive for millions of Canadians. Created in 1929 it is Canada’s smallest national park straddling two natural regions and forms a core protected area of the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve. The park lies on the edge of the Canadian Shield and is home to both northern and southern plants and animals. The islands are renowned for the variety of reptiles and amphibians they support. The park also has significant cultural value, having been occupied continuously for over 5,500 years. Maintenance and restoration of ecological integrity is the first priority of national parks (Canada National Parks Act s.8(2)). Species at risk, their residences, and their habitat are therefore protected by existing national park regulations and management regimes. In addition, the Species at Risk Act (SARA) prohibitions protecting individuals and residences apply automatically when a species is listed, and all critical habitat in national parks and national historic sites must be legally protected within 180 days of being identified.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Grasslands National Park of Canada (2016-07-05)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Grasslands National Park of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Grasslands National Park of Canada (GNP). The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur at this site. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at GNP.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Gulf Islands National Park Reserve of Canada (2018-08-01)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Gulf Islands National Park Reserve of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Gulf Islands National Park Reserve (GINPR). The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA (s.47)) for species requiring an action plan that regularly occur at this site. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits to other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at GINPR.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site (2016-07-04)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site meets the requirements for an action plan set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA (s.47)) for species requiring an action plan that occur inside the boundary of the site. This action plan will be updated to more comprehensively include measures to conserve and recover the marine species at risk once the first integrated Land, Sea, People management plan for Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve & Haida Heritage Site (hereafter called Gwaii Haanas) is complete. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in Gwaii Haanas.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site of Canada (2017-02-07)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site (KNP and NHS), including Kejimkujik National Park Seaside. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA (s.47)) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur within these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at KNP and NHS.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada and associated National Historic Sites of Canada (2016-11-22)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada and associated National Historic Sites of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the four sites: Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada (KNP) and other land managed by Parks Canada in the Northern New-Brunswick Field Unit offering adequate habitat for the species targeted in this action plan (Fort Beauséjour – Fort Cumberland National Historic Site of Canada (NHS), Beaubassin – Fort Lawrence NHS, Grand-Pré NHS). The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA) (s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in KNP and associated NHS.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for La Mauricie National Park and National Historic Sites of La Mauricie and Western Quebec regions (2020-10-06)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for La Mauricie National Park and Canada's national historic sites (NHS) that are part of the Mauricie and Western Quebec Field Unit (MWQFU) applies to the land and waters within the boundaries of La Mauricie National Park (LMNP) and 13 NHSs in Quebec: Obadjiwan–Fort Témiscamingue; Forges-du-Saint-Maurice; Fort Chambly; Fort Lennox; Battle of the Châteauguay; Coteau-du-Lac; Carillon Barracks; Manoir Papineau; Louis-Joseph Papineau; Louis S. St-Laurent; Fur Trade at Lachine National Historic Site; Sir Wilfrid Laurier; and Sir George-Étienne Cartier. This plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA; section 47) for species requiring an action plan that regularly occur on these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in LMNP and on associated NHSs.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (2016-07-05)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the two sites: Point Pelee National Park of Canada (PPNP) and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (NNHS). The NNHS is being used as a term to collectively refer to two locations in the Niagara region that consist of three National Historic Sites: Fort George National Historic Site, Battlefield of Fort George National Historic Site, and Butler’s Barracks National Historic Sites of Canada. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at PPNP and at NNHS.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Prince Edward Island National Park of Canada (2016-11-22)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Prince Edward Island National Park of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the gazette boundaries of Prince Edward Island National Park (PEINP), as well as, Crown lands located adjacent to the park that are owned and administered by Parks Canada, including Greenwich.. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan, and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at PEINP and on associated federal lands.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Pukaskwa National Park of Canada (2017-04-28)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Pukaskwa National Park of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the park. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at Pukaskwa National Park (PNP).
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Rouge National Urban Park of Canada (2021-10-07)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Rouge National Urban Park of Canada applies to all federally owned lands and waters managed by Parks Canada in Rouge National Urban Park (RNUP), including Bead Hill National Historic Site. To the extent possible, it has been prepared in cooperation with Environment and Climate Change Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the province of Ontario, the Rouge National Urban Park First Nations Advisory Circle, and environmental non-government organizations as per section 48(1) of SARA. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur at this site. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at RNUP. In light of the current Covid-19 pandemic, the 60-day public comment period on the proposed Multi-species Action Plan for Rouge National Urban Park of Canada has been extended to 90 days to provide sufficient time for feedback.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Thousand Islands National Park of Canada (2016-03-29)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Thousand Islands National Park of Canada is a Species At Risk Act action plan (SARA s.47) for four species: American Water-willow (Justicia americana), Butternut (Juglans cinerea), Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum), and Pugnose Shiner (Notropis anogenus). The plan also outlines measures to monitor and manage 30 other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in the park. This plan applies only to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Thousand Islands National Park of Canada.

Orders

  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Act (volume 151, number 5, 2017) (2017-03-08)

    His Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, acknowledges receipt, on the making of this Order, of assessments done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada with respect to the status of the species set out in the annexed schedule.
  • Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act (volume 151, number 23, 2017) (2017-11-15)

    Biodiversity is rapidly declining worldwide as species become extinct. Today’s extinction rate is estimated to be between 1 000 and 10 000 times higher than the natural rate. Biodiversity is positively related to ecosystem productivity, health and resiliency (i.e. the ability of an ecosystem to respond to changes or disturbances), and, given the interdependency of species, a loss of biodiversity can lead to decreases in ecosystem function and services (e.g. natural processes such as pest control, pollination, coastal wave attenuation, temperature regulation and carbon fixing). These services are important to the health of Canadians, and also have important ties to Canada’s economy. Small changes within an ecosystem can lead to a loss of individuals and species resulting in adverse, irreversible and broad-ranging effects.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2010 - 2011 (2011-09-09)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings during the past year assessing the status or reviewing the classification of a total of 92 wildlife species.
  • COSEWIC Annual Report 2020 to 2021 (2021-10-12)

    Over the past year COSEWIC assessed a total of 66 wildlife species, of which 4 were assigned a status of Not at Risk. Of these 66, COSEWIC re-examined the status of 41 wildlife species; of these, 80% were reassessed at the same or lower level of risk. To date and with the submission of this report, COSEWIC’s assessments now include 826 wildlife species in various risk categories including 369 Endangered, 196 Threatened, 239 Special Concern, and 22 Extirpated (i.e. no longer found in the wild in Canada). In addition, 19 wildlife species have been assessed as Extinct, 62 wildlife species have been designated as Data Deficient, and 202 have been assessed as Not at Risk.

Permits and Related Agreements

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species – December 2011 (2011-12-08)

    As part of its strategy for protecting wildlife species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Please submit your comments by February 8, 2012 for species undergoing normal consultations and by November 8, 2012 for species undergoing extended consultations.

Residence Description

  • Description of Residence for Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) in Canada (2019-05-14)

    The following is a description of residence for Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica), created for the purpose of implementing section 33 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) which relates to the damage or destruction of residences. Such damage or destruction can result from any alteration to the topography, structure, geology, soil conditions, vegetation, chemical composition of air/water, surface or groundwater hydrology, micro-climate, or sound environment which either temporarily or permanently impairs the function(s) of the residence of one or more individuals.

Related Information

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) Listing Plan 2016 to 2018 (2017-09-29)

    The status of wildlife species is assessed by an independent panel of expert Canadian scientists, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). 149 terrestrial species were assessed as at-risk by COSEWIC between 2009 and 2016 and are eligible for listing under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) to be considered by the Governor-in-Council (GIC) on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment: 86 species would be new additions, 54 currently listed species would be reclassified and 9 species would be updated to reflect changes in their recognized designatable units. A three-year listing plan has been developed to address all 149 terrestrial species and listing decisions for most species are anticipated by the end of 2018. Making amendments to Schedule 1 of SARA is a two-step process. The first step is for the GIC to propose an amendment through an order in council published in the Canada Gazette, Part I, for a 30-day public comment period. The second step is for the GIC to make a final decision on whether or not to make amendments to Schedule 1 of SARA, taking into consideration comments received during the 30-day public comment period. The amendments are made through an order in council published in the Canada Gazette, Part II. Both orders are accompanied by a Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement (RIAS) which presents the implications of listing the species or changing their status. Publishing this plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency about the Government of Canada’s plan to make listing decisions under the Species at Risk Act. NOTE: The information presented below is intended to provide openness and transparency with respect to when terrestrial species might be considered for listing under Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act. It is intended to assist anyone who may wish to provide comments on such listing considerations. Given any number of factors can affect the timing of a listing decision; the Plan is subject to change. Accordingly, the Plan will be periodically updated.
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