Living Bird Magazine
Cliff SwallowPetrochelidon pyrrhonota
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Hirundinidae
Busy flocks of Cliff Swallows often swarm around bridges and overpasses in summer, offering passers-by a chance to admire avian architecture and family life at once. Clusters of their intricate mud nests cling to vertical walls, and when a Cliff Swallow is home you can see its bright forehead glowing from the dim entrance. These common, sociable swallows are nearly always found in large groups, whether they’re chasing insects high above the ground, preening on perches, or dipping into a river for a bath.More ID Info
Find This Bird
One easy way to find Cliff Swallows is to look for their gourd-shaped mud nests clustered under horizontal overhangs—many a highway overpass is swarming with Cliff Swallows in summer. To find these birds while they’re out foraging, head to a lake, river, or wetland and seek out foraging flocks of swallows. Scan the swallows carefully, focusing on finding a square-tailed bird with a pale, pumpkin-colored rump and dark upperparts. Scan the upper levels of a foraging flock, as Cliff Swallows often forage higher than other species.
- Golondrina Risquera (Spanish)
- Hirondelle à front blanc (French)
- Cool Facts
- When a Cliff Swallow has had a hard time finding food, it will watch its neighbors in the nesting colony and follow one to food when it leaves. Although sharing of information about food at the colony seems unintentional, when a swallow finds food away from the colony during poor weather conditions it may give a specific call that alerts other Cliff Swallows that food is available. By alerting other swallows to a large insect swarm an individual may ensure that the swarm is tracked and that it can follow the swarm effectively.
- Although the Cliff Swallow can nest solitarily, it usually nests in colonies. Colonies tend to be small in the East, but further west they can number up to 3,700 nests in one spot.
- Within a Cliff Swallow colony some swallows lay eggs in another swallow's nest. Sometimes the swallow may lay eggs in its own nest and then carry one of its eggs in its bill and put it in another female's nest.
- When young Cliff Swallows leave their nests they congregate in large groups called creches. A pair of swallows can find its own young in the creche primarily by voice. Cliff Swallows have one of the most variable juvenal plumages, and the distinctive facial markings may help the parents recognize their chicks by sight too.
- The oldest recorded Cliff Swallow was a male, and at least 11 years, 10 months old when he was recaptured and rereleased for scientific purposes in California in 2004. He had been banded in Nebraska in 1993.