Barn Swallow. Photo by P. Vankevich
Barn Swallow. Photo by P. Vankevich

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Hirundo rustica

Text and photos by Peter Vankevich

The Barn Swallow is the most widely-distributed swallow in the world. Swallows are a group of passerine birds in the family Hirundinidae which are characterized by their adaptation to aerial feeding for their main food source which is insects. Barn Swallows prefer open habitats and near water. They have an orange face and throat, blue upper parts and pale underneath and a long forked tail.The song consists of a series of twitters, squeaks and chatter.

The Barn Swallow is rather easily identified in flight by its long-forked tail which separates it from other swallows and another unrelated aerial forager, the Chimney Swift, that is seen on Ocracoke in migration.Barn Swallow PS 1508

When to see: From mid-spring to mid-fall. Absent in winter

Where:  Nests in Ocracoke village, especially in the Oyster Creek area. Silver Lake Drive is a good location.  They can be seen in flight over the island and may be seen perching on dune bushes and grasses, and on the island’s power lines during migration.


(audio provided courtesy of OhioLINK Digital Resource Commons)

 Birds of the Outer Banks checklist


The reason for the Barn Swallow’s abundance can be surmised from its name. Whereas many bird species have suffered from loss of habitat to accommodate human needs, the Barn Swallow has adapted to human created environments.  Originally this bird preferred nesting in hollow trees, rock crevices and caves. Over the past couple of centuries, it has been highly adaptive by building its mud nest using man-made structures such as the eaves of buildings, boat docks and bridges.

Both the male and female help build the nest which consists of mud pellets and grasses. The nests are lined with soft material including feathers.

The word “swallow” appears to derive from an old English word meaning to move to and fro which is one way to categorize its flight pattern.  Barn Swallows are long-distant migrants, arriving in the spring from their wintering grounds in Central and South America.

It is the national bird of Austria and Estonia.

Barn Swallow IMG_6854

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  1. Terrific photography, Peter! Thanks for the informative article. Will the Swallows and Swifts be on Ocracoke at the same time or do the Swallows leave before the Swifts arrive? Sounds like another article when the Swifts arrive. 🙂

    • Thanks Marie. Chimney Swifts move through starting in August. I haven’t seen any signs of them nesting on the island.
      They have a nice little chatter that one can hear when flying nearby.

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