My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota

The American Cliff Swallow is a member of the passerine bird family Hirundinidae — the swallows and martins.

It breeds in North America and is migratory, wintering in western South America from Venezuela southwards to northeast Argentina.

This bird averages 13 cm (5 inches) long with a tiny bill. The adult Cliff Swallow has an iridescent blue back and crown, brown wings and tail, and buff rump. The nape and forehead are white. The underparts are white except for a red face. The tail is square-ended.

Young birds are essentially brown above and whitish below, except for the buff rump and dark face. The only confusion species is the closely related Cave Swallow, which is richer in colour and has a cinnamon rump and forehead.

Like all swallows and martins, Cliff Swallows subsist primarily on a diet of insects which are caught in flight.

American Cliff Swallows breed in large colonies. They build conical mud nests and lay 3-6 eggs. The natural nest sites are on cliffs, preferably beneath overhangs, but as with the Eurasian House Martin, man-made structures are now the principal locations for breeding. Female American Cliff Swallows are known to lay eggs in and move previously laid eggs into the nests of other birds within the colony.

This species has always been plentiful in the west of North America, where there are many natural sites, but the abundance in the east has varied.

European settlement provided many new nest sites on buildings, but the population declined in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as the supply of unpainted barns declined. There has been a subsequent revival as dams and bridges have provided suitable sites.

These are the famous swallows whose return from Villa Ventana, Argentina every year to the Mission San Juan Capistrano in California on (or around) March 19 is celebrated with a festival.

On to my photos:

Cliff Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Cliff Swallow

Cliff Swallow

This is number 110 in my photo life list, only 240 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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4 responses

  1. Sometimes you see an animal with an interesting marking, and you think “What is the evolutionary purpose for THAT?!?” Very interesting white tuft at the front of his head.

    July 6, 2013 at 8:16 am

    • Thanks for the comment. I have no idea if this is correct or not, but my guess would be that the white tuft acts almost like a headlight to other swallows. Since cliff swallows are communal birds,the tuft may be a way for them to avoid running into each other while chasing insects, by making them more visible to each other.

      July 6, 2013 at 9:09 am

  2. I just got to see these. they are awesome ! You have some great captures of them.

    July 8, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    • Thanks, but you should have seen the ones I deleted by accident, 15 feet away, perfect lighting, I could count the hairs around their bills.

      July 9, 2013 at 3:15 am