- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular breeding species and migrant. The Barn Swallow was an abundant species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
Breeding populations of Barn Swallows are found across much of North America, Europe, and Asia. They also extend south into central Mexico and northern Africa. In North America they are found primarily south of the Arctic Circle, from southern Alaska east to the Maritime Provinces and south throughout much of the United States. Breeding densities are highest in the eastern and central United States. Within this area, south-central Minnesota is one of the pockets of highest Barn Swallow density (Figure 1).
Assigned a Continental Concern score of 8/20 by Partners in Flight.
A long-distance migrant that winters in Central and South America.
An open-cup nest made of mud and dried grass. Originally nested in caves and rocky crevices; today nearly all nests are located on man-made structures that provide a vertical wall with an overhanging eave or a flat surface. Nests singly or in colonies.
Roberts (1932) described this most colorful of Minnesota’s swallows as an abundant summer resident throughout the state. Although he doubted it was present in the western grasslands prior to European settlement, for lack of suitable nesting sites, it had become “the commonest Swallow of the prairie country, finding suitable nesting places about farmhouses and in the environs of towns.” A bird of the farm country, he went on to write, “Its good habits, beautiful plumage, and familiar and confiding ways have made it one of the best known and most loved birds of the rural districts.” Although closely associated with human habitations in western Minnesota, in the early 1900s Barn Swallows could still be found along the North Shore nesting among crevices in the shoreline’s steep escarpments. At the time, nesting was confirmed (nests with eggs or young) in 8 counties (Hennepin, Isanti, Jackson, Kandiyohi, McLeod, Polk, St. Louis, and Traverse). Inferred nesting records were available from 4 counties (Itasca, Rock, Sherburne, and Wabasha). Nesting was also reported from Mille Lacs and Itasca State Park.
Decades later, Green and Janssen (1975) simply noted that the Barn Swallow had become most common in the prairie region and “least numerous in heavily wooded areas.” By the time Janssen wrote his updated account in 1987, the species had become common also in the central region of the state. He included a statewide distribution map that delineated a total of 55 counties, widely dispersed across the state, where nesting had been confirmed since 1970. Hertzel and Janssen (1998) later added another 9 counties to the list. The 889 breeding season locations documented by the Minnesota Biological Survey again documented the species’ wide distribution, particularly in agricultural regions of the state (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016).
During the MNBBA observers documented 4,863 Barn Swallow records in 55.4% (2,663/4,806) of the surveyed atlas blocks and in 70.9% (1,656/2,337) of the priority blocks. Breeding was confirmed in 1,022 blocks (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). Records and breeding evidence came from all 87 Minnesota counties. The birds were least abundant in the eastern and northern regions of the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province.
The MNBBA predicted breeding distribution map illustrates the species’ predicted abundance throughout Minnesota (Figure 4). Densities are lowest in the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province and are relatively low in the Tallgrass Aspen Parklands Province compared to higher breeding densities found throughout the Prairie Parkland and Eastern Broadleaf Forest Provinces. Densities are predicted to be especially high in small, scattered areas in southwestern and west-central Minnesota.
Since Roberts (1932) wrote his original account of the species’ status, there has been little change in the Barn Swallow’s distribution. No doubt it is far more common, however, in the developed areas of the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province than it was 100 years ago, when much of the region remained sparsely settled and developed. The swallow’s adaptation to human landscapes has enabled it to expand its distribution into many areas of the United States where it did not formerly occur. Perhaps most notable is its expansion south through the Atlantic and Gulf states, including the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, in the latter half of the 20th century (Brown and Brown 1999).
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.