Common Name: Cliff
Species: 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
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
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.
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.