Though it has a widespread range, the cliff swallow can be uncommon depending on the available habitat. Its large nesting colonies are unmistakable, however, and may have hundreds or thousands of active nests.
Cliff Swallow, American Cliff Swallow
- Bill: Short, black
- Size: 5.5 inches long with 12-inch wingspan, broad wings
- Colors: Black, white, dark blue, rust, gray, buff
- Markings: Genders are similar with a blue-black crown, back, wings and tail. The forehead is white (buff or rust in some southwestern and Mexican populations), and the cheeks, throat and auriculars are deeply rust colored. A narrow, pale collar is visible beneath the nape. The back may show white spotting or streaking, and the rump is a pale rust or buff-orange. Underparts are grayish white, and undertail coverts may show spotting. In flight, the tail appears square.
Insects, fruit, berries (See: Insectivorous)
Habitat and Migration:
These neotropical migrants have a widespread range that extends from Alaska to Mexico in the summer, though they are absent from the southeastern United States. They spend winters in the South America rainforest, from Panama to northern Argentina, and occasional vagrant birds are recorded in Europe. In their breeding range, they prefer open areas such as agricultural fields, grassland and woodland edges, but are regularly seen in urban and suburban areas where adequate nesting areas such as old bridges, underpasses and old buildings can be found. Areas with a lake, river or stream will be especially attractive.
Cliff swallows can be highly vocal and have a wide vocabulary that includes chittering, chatters, sputtering and thin squeaking. The typical alarm call is a sharp "keeer" sound. While one bird may not be easy to hear, the sound of a large colony can be overwhelming.
These are gregarious birds that congregate in large flocks, often mixing with other swallows or swifts in good feeding areas. They feed primarily in flight, but are occasionally seen foraging on the ground. Highly adaptable, they can be found in a range of habitats and will nest near human activity.
Cliff swallows are monogamous, cavity-nesting birds that return annually to the same nesting sites to build their gourd-shaped nests, often in colonies that may have hundreds of nests. Both parents will incubate the 1-6 eggs for 14-16 days, and both parents continue to care for the altricial young for 21-24 days after hatching. A mated pair may produce 1-3 broods per year.
Attracting Cliff Swallows:
These swallows can readily be attracted to suitable nesting sites such as old railroad bridges or overpasses, abandoned buildings, tunnels and similar structures. While they do not visit backyards, if a cliff swallow colony is nearby providing a mud puddle or wallow for nesting material can encourage the birds to visit. Avoiding insecticide use will also help provide a ready food source for cliff swallows.