Dennis Ferraro, UNL Extension, is also the resident herpetologist at the School of Natural Resources. Dennis will be writing monthly articles on animals that you might see on your acreage in Nebraska. Watch for future articles to learn what interests a herpetologist!
Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) are nature's stunt pilots; they swoop for flying insects and dive bomb toward potential predators with precision and maneuverability.
Barn swallows are small slender songbirds with long forked tails. This long tail is an indicator of the bird’s vigor; females will select male mates based on their tail. The dorsal or upperside is dark steely blue or purplish, an almost iridescent color. The ventral or underside is cream with many having a bright orange coloration under the neck. Males prefer females with a darker reddish chest.
Barn swallows are abundant and wide-ranging, found throughout the Midwest and North America. They overwinter in the southern hemisphere and migrate back to North America in the spring. In an average year they will begin to arrive in Nebraska in early May.
Barn swallows live and nest in small groups; they are even noted to hunt in these groups. They prefer hunting close to ground level in open pastures, fields and landscapes. Barn swallows feed on most flying insects, with their favorite prey consisting of moths, beetles, small grasshoppers and leafhoppers. These are the birds that follow the tractor as it mows or cultivates, attacking the insects that are disturbed. They also may be seen picking off insects over ponds and pools.
To encourage barn swallows to nest on your acreage, the best thing you can do is allow them access to nest in an undisturbed location on or in a building. A source of mud and water close to the building during the nest-building process is helpful. While the pair is building a nest, entering the building frequently should not bother them, as long as you stay only a minute or two and don't approach the nest. After eggs are laid, the swallows will become quite possessive of their nesting area and people should try to remain clear of the area. Barn swallows will usually return to the same location to nest each year.