Western Isles
 Western Isles of Scotland


Recent bird sightings
Bird Photographs
Notes: A - Z Index
Notes: Taxonomic Index
Outer Hebrides Checklist
Useful contacts
Archived Sightings
Wildlife Garden
Bird ringing in Lewis

Bird Sightings : Hebrides : Barn Swallow

Hebrides bird sightings -  Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

(Swallow, Swalla)

Hirundo rustica

Gaelic: Gobhan Gaoithe

Photography © Andy l
Isle of Lewis - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
Early August, 2007


Our Swallow and Martins photographs

Barn Swallow
Barn swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
Purple Martin


  • Barn Swallow
  • Hirundo rustica
  • Gaelic: Gobhan Gaoithe
  • UK: 726,000 pairs (Summer) (Declining) AMBER LIST BTO
  • WI: Uncommon Migrant Breeder (10-99 breeding pairs) and fairly common passage visitor (occurs in small numbers)
  • Breeds: Originally cave-nester: Europe, Asia, North America
  • Winters: South Africa, North Australia, South America
  • Habitat: Open country usually near water: farm pasture & buildings, villages, reedbeds
  • Diet: Aerial feeder: flying insects (flies mostly)
  • Small bird. Dark glossy-blue back. Red throat & forehead. Pale below. Long (forked) tail streamers
    Very agile in flight - spends majority of life on the wing.
  • Typical lifespan 3yrs, max recorded 11ys 1mth
  • Listen to a Barn Swallow (RSPB site). Twittering
  • Similar birds: House Martin, Sand Martin (squarer tails), Swift (forked tails)

Within the sub-family Hirundiniae, the name "Martin" usually refers to the squarer-tailed species, and the name "Swallow" to the more fork-tailed species. There is no scientific distinction between these Martins and Swallows. The family contains around 83 species!


Female Swallows choose the males with the most symmetric tails tails to mate with.


Aristole believed that Swallows spent winter in the bottom of ponds. This was proven to not be the case by means of tying small strips of rag to a swallow's legs. The rags had a water-soluble dye, when the bird returned in the spring the strips of rag still had colour proving conclusively that Swallows do not spend winter in the bottom of ponds.


Swallows winter in Africa and return to the Western Isles to breed each summer. Some arrive in March, but the majority do not arrive until April when there is plenty of food (flying insects). This is where the expression "One Swallow doesn't make a summer" comes from.


Swallows flying high foretells good weather. When bad weather approaches atmospheric pressure drops, and this makes flying insects fly lower, so the Swallows fly lower to catch them.

To have Swallows nesting on one's land was thought to bring good luck. It was thought bad luck to kill them, and that it would lead to bloody milk, or no milk at all, and that hens would stop laying.

One of the reasons people would have risked the bad luck incured in killing a Swallow was that there was a belief that illness could be cured by treating it with something that resembled the illness in some way. Swallows twittered so it was believed they could be used to treat epilepsy and stuttering. This involved eating the bird. (They are now a species protected by law).

Swallows originally nested in caves, now they often nest and fly about catching insects, in dark places like sheds and barns (hence the name Barn Swallow). This led to the belief that there was a small stone in a Swallow's nest that would cure blindness (the swallow stone).


Barn Swallow records in the Western Isles

Uncommon Migrant Breeder (10-99 breeding pairs) and fairly common passage visitor (occurs in small numbers)
Source: Outer Hebrides Bird Report (2001)

On the chart below the darker the shade of blue the more abundant the Barn Swallow is during a month or the more likely you are to see it.

























(Source: Outer Hebrides Birds Checklist)



Other local bird photographs

Sources of information for the bird sightings section

back to page top

Home Contact Webmaster

Copyright © 2010 Western Isles Netspace.  User Agreement and Privacy policy