The barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) returned to our ranch on May 8th. The most abundant and widely distributed swallow in the world, it breeds in the Northern Hemisphere and winters in the Southern.
Barn swallows explore many nesting sites before making their final choice. Currently several pairs are flying and hovering about our house and outbuildings trying to find the perfect home. Historically barn swallows nested in caves or on cliffs. Now they chose to build their nests almost exclusively on man-made structures.
The male and female work together to build their cup nest from mud that they collect in their mouths and form into pellets. Grass is often incorporated into the pellets for strength. If the nesting site is a flat surface, the pair first construct a flat shelf and then build up the sides. A nest built against a wall is a semicircular half cup. The nest lining is grass and feathers. Often a pair will refurbish a nest from the previous year.
Barn swallows have steely blue-black wings and tail with cinnamon to tawny underparts. The male and female look similar but the female has a lighter chest. Both sexes have a slightly flattened head, almost no neck and a deeply forked tail which sets the barn swallow apart from all other North American species.
Barn swallows are excellent fliers, darting about fields and barnyards in search of food, which is taken on the wing. Flying insects, mostly flies, beetles, wasps, bees, ants, butterflies and moths, comprise their diet. Barn swallows prefer to take larger prey rather than eat swarms of small insects.
According to mythology, the barn swallow stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans. An angry god hurled a firebrand at the swallow and it singed its middle tail feathers.
These two barn swallows are seriously checking out a protected ledge on our back porch (Lookout CA) to build their nest. I hope they do!