Frequency and consequences of feather holes in Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) Science Article 10


The relationship between feather quality, estimated through the prevalence and intensity of feather holes, and the breeding performance and survival of the Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica was studied over a 5-year period. In addition, we present some indirect data on the role of chewing lice in producing the feather holes. The balanced distribution of feather holes (high prevalence, low aggregation) corresponds with the pattern of distribution of lice on colonial birds, and in the Barn Swallow. Feather holes were significantly and positively associated with the arrival dates of the birds, as both males and females with an increased number of feather holes started laying later. Females that survived the winter had significantly fewer holes than non-surviving females, whereas there was no difference in feather hole number between surviving and non-surviving males. Given that there was no association between the number of feather holes and body condition indices, except for the tail length of male Barn Swallows, we suggest that the negative effect of feather holes on the fitness of the birds is mainly apparent during periods of intensive locomotor activity, such as migration.


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