Barn swallow celebrates 50 years as national bird

On November 26th 50 years ago the barn swallow was elected to Estonia’s national bird, at a meeting of the ornithology section of the Estonian Naturalists’ Society (Eesti Looduseuurijate Selts) in Tartu.
The barn swallow, familiar and beloved, was launched as a candidate by Kustas Põldmaa. well-known author of nature books. Some seabirds and the pine grosbeak of Saaremaa were also considered but the barn swallow received unanimous support.
The initiative to encourage all countries to elect a national bird came from the then International bird protection council. By this, the council wanted to raise the public interest for bird protection and to spread the message that everyday birds deserve protection and care too, not only the rarities.
Although many countries have elected national birds over the decades the barn swallow is distinguished by its popularity and the role it has played in Estonia.
The barn swallow has become a symbol of Estonia, Estonians and Estonian culture. This was consolidated in the years of the singing revolution when the barn swallow together with the cornflower were confirmed as national Estonian symbols.
The strength of the barn swallow as a symbol is also shown by the frequent use of the swallow motif in our contemporary imagery when emphasis on the close relationship between Estonia and home origin is desired: trade marks such as „Tunnustatud Eesti Maitse – Approved Estonian Taste“ and the Estonian ecological symbol „Puhas keskkond – Pure environment“, Tallinn airport, Estonian Air, the series Eesti film 100 – 100 Years of Estonian Film and others. The barn swallow is also often used as a symbol of Estonian character in the cartoons in our printed media.

Concern about the disappearance of common and widespread bird species is even more current today than 50 years ago. The state of barn swallows and other long-distance migrants is none too good in Estonia or in other areas of Europe. Changes in agricultural practices in their European breeding areas, mass slaughter on the migration routes, climate changes and the expansion of arid areas caused by human activities and the vanishing of insects in the wintering areas have decimated the European population of barn swallows. 

Even though we cannot do much to change what happens in South Europe and in Africa, everyone can achieve a great deal around their homes to make our national bird feel at home at least in Estonia. Suitable nesting conditions for barn swallows can be created and you can help the Estonian Ornithological Society monitor the well-being of the species by taking part in the initiative „Kodukoha pääsuke - Homestead swallow“. Detailed instructions and more information about our national bird can be found at
The Estonian Ornithological Society

Additional information: Mati Kose,, 523 6926




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