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House martin (Delichon urbicum) in flight

House martin ( Delichon urbicum ) in flight

Subclass : New-jawed birds (Neognathae)
Order : Passerines (Passeriformes)
Subordination : Songbirds (passeri)
without rank: Passerida
Superfamily : Sylvioidea
Family : Swallows
Scientific name
Vigors , 1825
Barn swallow ( Hirundo rustica )

The swallows (Hirundinidae) are a species-rich family of the order passerine birds (Passeriformes), subordinate songbirds (Passeres). Swallows feed on flying insects, in Central Europe they are migratory birds . The typically forked swallowtail gave names to other objects (e.g. the butterfly ), as well as the characteristic nest building (e.g. for the castle ruins Schwalbennest or the swallow's nest organ ). Common swifts and terns do not belong to this family.


Swallows have a slender, streamlined body, short neck, and long, pointed wings with 10 hand wings, the outermost wing of which is extremely reduced. The beak is short with a wide cleft and can be opened wide. The feet are tiny and suitable for grasping, little for walking. The tail, which is long in many species, has 12 control feathers and is often forked. The bronchial rings of the vocal head (syrinx) are more or less complete.

The sexes are similar in size and feathering, but the outer tail feathers of the females may be shorter than those of the males. Young birds are more dull colored with shorter outer tail feathers. The swallow species are quite similar and often differ only little in size or in the details of the fletching.


Diet and altitude

Swallows are characterized by their adaptation to the acquisition of food in the air: They mainly prey on flying insects . The altitude of these insects increases massively in good weather due to rising warm air masses. However, since they fly much lower on their own, one can deduce from a low altitude of the swallows the altitude of their prey and thus low pressure (bad weather).

Swallows gather on power lines in autumn

Since the incidence of flying insects in northern and central Europe is reduced in winter, swallows then have to move to their winter quarters.

Two young house martins in the nest, Schwerin Castle
Swallows in Eastern Siberia

Nest building

The nest building of the swallows is characteristic and is primarily carried out in poorly accessible places. Body secretions that stick together well and are provided in the swallow's saliva are required for the construction . The evolution of this nest building behavior and the endogenously produced substances required for it allow phylogenetic conclusions.


Colony forming swallows as Hirundo pyrrhonota tend their eggs to hatch neighbors foist (in colonies with more than ten nests).


Swallows are found on all continents apart from Antarctica . Many species are restricted to closer ranges, the barn swallow and sand martin are migratory birds that can be found on both sides of the Atlantic . There are four species native to Central Europe:

Swallows are also threatened by the current mass extinction .


The family comprises 2 subfamilies, 19 genera and about 83 species. The classification also takes molecular biological studies into account.

Moor swallow ( Tachycineta bicolor ), Alaska

Possible confusion

Species of the following families are not assigned to the swallows:

Swallow colony in
Pisciotta / Italy

Coexistence with man

Building nests on houses

Swallows are insect eaters and have therefore long been welcome in agriculture . Their nests on buildings are traditionally respected by humans. The nests of the house martins that are not used for agricultural purposes are often removed by the house residents due to the soiling of the house walls with nesting material and excrement of the swallows, although this is prohibited under the German Federal Nature Conservation Act ( Section 44 (1) BNatSchG).

Swallow house

Soiling can be prevented by attaching manure boards.

Swallow houses

Since the 1890s will swallow houses set up as artificial nesting boxes for swallows. Due to the abandonment of farms, many of the barn swallows' nesting sites in stables were lost. Swallow houses offer the colony-breeding birds a new way of raising their offspring.

Other names and pawn rules

Swallows were already considered sacred in ancient times. In the Middle Ages, swallows were revered as good luck charms and heralds of spring. Swallows are also called "Mother of God Birds" according to the following peasant rules and are known in the Baden region:

  • "On the day of the birth of Mary, the swallow ford fly." ( September 8th )
  • "Annunciation to Mary they come again." ( March 25 )
  • "A swallow doesn't make a summer." ( Aesop , see web links )
  • “If swallows fly low, you will get rainy weather. If they fly up into the heights, the weather will still be pretty nice! "

Individual evidence

  1. a b Handbook to the Swallows and Martins of the World, p. 1.
  2. Gerrit Stratmann: Why can you read the weather from the flight of swallows? , DeutschlandRadio Berlin, August 9, 2004, accessed on September 4, 2014.
  3. Diet of barn swallows . Wildvogelhilfe.org. Retrieved on March 14, 2013.
    Quoted from the former website of NABU : Raising and caring for young swallows , from 2001.
  4. David W. Winkler, Frederick H. Sheldon: Evolution of nest construction in swallows (Hirundinidae): a molecular phylogenetic perspective . In: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences . 90, No. 12, 1993, pp. 5705-5707.
  5. ^ Charles R. Brown: Laying eggs in a neighbor's nest: benefit and cost of colonial nesting in swallows . In: Science . 224, No. 4648, 1984, p. 518. doi : 10.1126 / science.224.4648.518 .
  6. Angela Turner, Chris Rose: A Handbook to the Swallows and Martins of the World. Christopher Helm, 1989, ISBN 978-0-7136-4206-3
  7. Simone Schmollack: Decline in swallows in Lower Saxony: Not good for birds. In: taz.de . April 9, 2019, accessed May 1, 2019 .
  8. Frederick H. Sheldon, et al. : Phylogeny of swallows (Aves: Hirundinidae) estimated from nuclear and mitochondrial DNA sequences . In: Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution . 35, No. 1, 2005, pp. 254-270. doi : 10.1016 / j.ympev.2004.11.008 .
  9. Andreas Lukas / Felicia Petersen: The legal protection of swallow nests on buildings ( Memento from April 2, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) , Information Service Environmental Law, accessed on January 13, 2015
  10. Hubert Pfister: Burladingen - A lot of swallow offspring in Hausen. In: Black Forest Messenger . August 25, 2016, accessed August 6, 2019 .

Web links

Commons : Swallows  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Swallows  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations