Hirundo rustica (Barn swallow, European swallow) 

Europese swael [Afrikaans]; Inkonjane (generic term for swallow), Ucelizapholo, Udlihashe [Xhosa]; iNkonjane (generic term for swallows) [Zulu]; Sisampamema (generic term for swallows, martins, swifts and spinetails) [Kwangali]; Lefokotsane (generic term for swallow), ’Malinakana (also applied to Greater striped swallow), Lekabelane [South Sotho]; Nyenganyenga (generic name for swallow or martin) [Shona]; Inkonjane (generic term for swallows) [Swazi]; Nyengha (generic term for swallow) [Tsonga]; Pêolwane, Phêtla (generic terms for swifts, martins and swallows) [Tswana]; boerenzwaluw [Dutch]; Hirondelle rustique [French]; Rauchschwalbe [German]; Andorinha-das-chaminés [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Passeriformes  > Family: Hirundinidae

Hirundo rustica (Barn swallow, European swallow)  Hirundo rustica (Barn swallow, European swallow) 

Barn swallow, Ntsikeni Nature Reserve, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Immature barn swallow caught in a Nephila spp Golden Orb Web Spider's web, Greater Umbabat Nature Reserve, South Africa. [photo Johann Grobbelaar ©]

Distribution and habitat

Abundant and widely distributed, with breeding grounds across North America and Eurasia. In the non-breeding season the population moves south to South America, Africa and southern Asia. In southern Africa it can occur in any habitat, although it is uncommon in arid, semi-arid and high altitude (e.g. Lesotho) areas. It is generally more common in the moist eastern half of the region, favouring Miombo (Brachystegia) woodland, open grassland, pastures, cultivated fields, open water and vleis.

Distribution of Barn swallow in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

It has been recorded as prey of the following animals:

An infection of Hyalomma rufipes (Heavy tick) caused several fatalities in Zimbabwe.

Movements and migrations

Most birds arrive in our region during October-November, leaving in huge flocks (see image below) around March and April.

Hirundo rustica (Barn swallow, European swallow) 

Some of the roughly 3 million birds in a flock roosting in a wetland near Mount Moreland, north of Durban, South Africa. [photo Alan Manson ©]

Foraging and food

It mainly eats insects, doing most of its foraging near the ground, rapidly hawking prey from the air or on vegetation, occasionally from the ground. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Insects
  • Spiders
  • Fleshy arils of Acacia cyclops (Rooikrans)


Not threatened, in fact an estimated that 22-44 million birds from western Europe and 44-88 million from eastern Europe and Asia enter Africa annually, and this doesn't include the American population.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town

  • Harrison, J.A., Allan, D.G., Underhill, L.G., Herremans, M., Tree. A.J., Parker, V. & Brown, C.J. (eds). 1997. The atlas of southern African birds. Vol. 2: Passerines. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.


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