Cliff Swallow

Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
A Cliff Swallow specimen on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A medium-sized (5-6 inches) swallow, the Cliff Swallow is most easily identified by its dark wings, pale breast, and buff-brown rump. Other field marks include a squared-off tail, pale forehead, and black throat patch. Male and female Cliff Swallows are similar to one another in all seasons. The Cliff Swallow breeds across Alaska, Canada, and much of the United States outside of the desert southwest and southeast. In winter, this species migrates south to southern South America. Small numbers are sometimes seen in late fall in southern California and the Gulf Coast, but this species does not normally spend the winter in these areas. As this species’ name suggests, Cliff Swallows typically breed in areas where cliff faces provided a suitable location for nesting sites. More recently, this species has adapted to building nests on man-made structures, such as overpasses and tall buildings, a fact which has allowed Cliff Swallows to expand their range east and south into areas where cliff faces are less common. During the winter, this species is found in open grasslands, fields, and marshes. Cliff Swallows exclusively eat flying insects. As is the case with most swallow species, it is possible to observe Cliff Swallows feeding on insects while in flight. Birdwatchers in this species’ breeding range may want to pay special attention to bridges or the eaves of buildings, as a careful search of these structures may reveal a nesting colony. Cliff Swallows are primarily active during the day.

DC Information

Formerly summer resident, now uncommon migrant, seen over water and in open country, mid-April to late May and early July to early September.

Specimen Information

Date:  7/6/1889
Collected By:  John R Massie/CW Richmond
Locality:  Washington, DC
Sex:  Female
Catalog ID:  175973

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Petrochelidon pyrrhonota

Sound from xeno-canto. XC46805 Petrochelidon pyrrhonota (American Cliff Swallow)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC46806 Petrochelidon pyrrhonota (American Cliff Swallow)