Living Bird Magazine
Black SwiftCypseloides niger
- ORDER: Caprimulgiformes
- FAMILY: Apodidae
The Black Swift dances high in the sky on sickle-shaped wings, where it feasts on winged ants. On sunny days it flies so high that it's just a speck. This large, black swift nests on dark and inaccessible ledges, often behind waterfalls, but much of the rest of its life is shrouded in mystery. It spends the winter somewhere in South America and the Caribbean, where it blends in with similar-looking swifts. Sadly, one of the few things we know about this species is its U.S./Canada population has dropped by more than 90% since 1970.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Finding a Black Swift can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack, but there are a few ways to increase your odds. Look for them on the breeding grounds near waterfalls, but get there early before they leave their roosting site for the day. They forage over wide areas, so it's best to catch them as they are about to leave their nighttime roost. Head out on a cloudy and overcast day when they forage lower to the ground. Look for a hefty (for a swift) black bird flying with stiff but steady wingbeats.
- Vencejo Negro (Spanish)
- Martinet sombre (French)
- Cool Facts
- It wasn’t until 1901, when A. G. Vrooman, an egg collector, found the first nest of a Black Swift on a sea cliff near Santa Cruz, California. But his discovery was cast aside as a storm-petrel nest, until 1914 when Vrooman showed William Dawson, an ornithologist, the nest and he deemed Vrooman's sighting credible. Black Swifts are now known to nest in sea caves as well as behind waterfalls.
- Black Swifts are mysterious birds. It was only recently that researchers in Colorado discovered where some go during the winter. They put tiny geolocators on 4 Black Swifts and learned that the birds spent the winter 4,000 miles away in the lowland rainforests of Brazil, a location the species had not been reported in before.
- Black Swift parents regurgitate a sticky mess of saliva and insects to feed their one and only nestling each season.
- The oldest recorded Black Swift was at least 15 years and 1 month old when it was recaptured and released in California, the same state where it had been banded.