I discovered something while at a local school yard when our first child was a toddler who had just discovered the freedom of all-out, full-steam ahead toddling: Barn swallows are great for wearing out your children after your children have already worn you out. These birds, one of the most widespread species in the world, are fast-flying insect-eaters that dart scant inches above fields and watercourses. On farms they swoop close to the ground around tractors and lumbering farm animals, picking off insects. They do the same thing with toddlers running across lawns. In turn, the toddler chases the pretty bird, scaring up more insects from the grass, and the swallow swoops again. The child is running and laughing as the bird flies and eats. In the eyes of a tired parent it is a perfect symbiotic relationship.
Sad to say, though, these long-distance tropical migrants are in decline in both New and Old Worlds. According to Bird Studies Canada:
“Data from a variety of sources suggest the cosmopolitan Barn Swallow is becoming much less common. In Canada, Breeding Bird Survey data suggest Barn Swallows have experienced a 2.9% annual decline over the past 30 years. That decline has steepened in the last decade to 7.6% annually. Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas data back up this decline, with the number of atlas squares in which Barn Swallows have been found declining by a third over the past 20 years. U.S. data suggest a smaller decline of 1.4% over the last 20 years…
Concern for declining Barn Swallow populations is not limited to North America. BirdLife International recently published Birds in Europe, an in-depth study of the conservation status of European birds. This report highlights the Barn Swallow in their "losers" category. As a breeding bird in Europe, this migratory species is widespread but in moderate decline and showing little sign of recovery.” (Ref: http://www.bsc-eoc.org/organization/newsarchive/11-12-04.html ).