Eco Mural Project 14: Barn Swallows, S.S. Bernard LLC, 1004 South Saint Bernard St., Philadelphia, PA
“True hope is swift, and flies with swallow’s wings.” -William Shakespeare
If you live in America, it’s likely you’ve seen a Barn Swallow. These dashing acrobats dart through the air in order to catch insects, then return to man-made structures where they build their nests out of mud pellets and grass. Their deep blue markings, orange chests, and striking forked tails make them a treasured sight in America.
These beautiful birds have been friends of people in America for centuries, and signal the coming of spring as they make their annual migration back from South America. Swallows are incredible long-distance migrants, flying up to two hundred miles per day in order to reach appropriate temperatures throughout the year. A common Indigenous American folklore tells of a daring swallow who stole fire from the gods in order to give it to humans. In retaliation, an angry deity threw a firebrand at the bird, singeing off the center of his tail, resulting in the unique fork. Science has taught us that Barn Swallows actually use their tails to chase down insects and perform impressive aerial stunts. Swallows also drink and bathe on the wing, dipping into bodies of water near their nests as they soar. Their distinctive tails and the shape of their wings have been studied extensively by scientists and engineers to provide insight for designing airplanes and jets.
Barn Swallows are a unique addition to the Eco Mural Project due to their prevalence and success in adapting to human encroachment on wild spaces, but even these birds face the strain of environmental degradation. Barn Swallows that are rural are impacted by agricultural pesticides and the runoff the chemicals create, poisoning their food and water. (For more on pesticide impacts on insects, especially honeybees, visit our Honeybee and Pollination Page.)
Because Barn Swallows almost exclusively create their nests in human-built structures, they are subject to the changing urban landscape and are often displaced by construction and renovation. Many migratory birds like the Barn Swallow are facing major disruptions in their normal migration routes, resulting in huge die-offs each season. Scientists are currently working hard to certify the direct causes, but it is understood that constant human encroachment on their routes and the unpredictable weather conditions caused by climate change are major factors.
When studying the effects of environmental degradation, pollution, and climate change, it’s important to include species that are extremely populous as well as the endangered ones. Climate change affects all creatures, even those who are seemingly successful in adapting to the impact of humans. Even Barn Swallows have seen a decline in population over the past few decades, and the causes can all be traced back to inactivity on environmental restoration and stopping climate change.