Cliff Swallow

Common Name: Cliff Swallow
Petrochelidon pyrrhonota




The Cliff Swallow is a member of the order Passeriformes, which consists of perching birds, and belongs to the family Hirundinidae, the swallow and martin family.

The Cliff Swallow is 5-6 inches (13-15 cm) in length, has a wingspan of 11-12 inches (28-30 cm), and weighs 0.67-1.2 ounces (19 and 34 g). It has a dark blue back with white stripes and a tan or cream colored rump. The Cliff Swallow has a rusty red throat and a light colored belly. Its tail is squared shaped, with no fork in it. Male and female Cliff Swallows are similar in appearance, although the male has a somewhat larger throat patch.


Cliff Swallows prefer open land, cliffs, bluffs, and farms, usually near water sources like rivers and lakes. They spend the winter non-breeding season in the South American countries of Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. During the summer breeding season, they range from Mexico to Canada, and can even be found as far north as Alaska.

As aerial insectivores, Cliff Swallows eat flying insects. They tend to eat smaller insects than the Purple Martin. Instead of dragonflies and moths, Cliff Swallows prefer swarming insects such as mosquitoes. Their diet varies greatly, and also includes flying ants, spiders, flies, midges, and leafhoppers. Cliff Swallows glide in circles high in the air to forage for these insects.



Cliff Swallows are monogamous. Although they can nest solitarily, they are very social birds and tend to nest in colonies that can include up to 3,500 nests. Both males and females contribute to nest building by sticking mud balls to the side of a wall, such as a barn, cliff, or the underside of bridges. When completed, these nests are jug-like in appearance; hence the nests are referred to as “mud-jugs.” The inside of the nests are lined with grasses and feathers.

Female Cliff Swallows have been known to lay their eggs in another colony member’s nest. Sometimes they may even carry an egg from their own nest and place it in a different nest. Females can lay anywhere from one to six eggs, which are incubated for fourteen to sixteen days. These eggs are pale pink or white in color and are marked with brown. Both the male and the female incubate the eggs and take turns feeding them when they hatch. The young fledge after three weeks. When they leave the nest, the young can gather in large groups called “crèches”. Parents can recognize their young in these crèches primarily by their voice and facial markings.


Their call is a series of twittering and chirping noises.


Where to see them in WNY

Cliff Swallows are commonly found near farmlands and wetlands, and are occasionally seen at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. is a program of Canisius College, Buffalo, NY.                                                  Web Design by Ivan Andrijevic