barn swallow return

Asked May 18, 2016, 12:30 PM EDT

I live in mid-Illinois in the country and for years I have had as many as five barn swallows nesting on our house. In addition dozens were to be seen on power lines in the area feeding over the fields and ponds. They usually arrive late April except for last year. We had only two pairs show up then with few on the power lines and only one so far this year to nest with none as of yet on lines. I also have Blue Bird boxes that have been successful in years past, but have not seen any this year. Any ideas. Thank you.

Rob Ward

Marshall County Illinois

4 Responses

Hi Rob - Let's take these separately as we are dealing with two different situations.

Barn Swallows are neotropical migrants - they winter in Central and South America. While they often have very regular return dates, they can also be subject to migration interruption due to adverse weather. This year we have noticed a very unusual migration which seems to be due to the weather. Many swallow species were very slow to return and now within the past week or so, the numbers have exploded. Other species that are normally migrate through Kansas and are gone by now, are still hanging around because of the lack of regular southerly winds to facilitate migration. I suspect that your Barn Swallow numbers will increase in the next 5 to 10 days. I won't rule out the possibility of some sort of catastrophe in the wintering areas or in migration. Birds often stay together in loose flocks and if something happened it could take out quite a few that normally summer in the same geographical area.

Eastern Bluebirds are not neotropical migrants. They will move out of northern Illinois but if they do leave your area in the winter, they don't go very far south. I've had several questions this spring about Eastern Bluebirds either with low numbers or nest abandonment. Numerous things can cause fluctuations in local populations of birds including weather issues (extreme wet/dry, hot/cold), changes in food sources, even changes in local ecosystems. We have bluebird houses at my mother in law's farm and we'll go for several years with everyone house filled and then several years with hardly any filled so there does seem to be a routine cycling. I'd suggest cleaning the houses out and maybe even put up more to give more options.

Let me know if you have any follow up questions!


For more information on bluebirds you may also want to check out the North American Bluebird Society's webpage (if you haven't already.) I find it to have a lot of very good information on bluebirds.

Chuck, thank you for the prompt, complete, and excellent response to my question. Since our conversation, some of the swallows have returned although not in the usual number, but you covered that in your response too. Thank you again.

If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me directly at