Common Name
CLIFF SWALLOW

Scientific Name
PETROCHELIDON PYRRHONOTA

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Photo by Robert T. Maytum
Photo Courtesy of Robert T. Maytum

The cliff swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota, is a highly social bird that nests in large colonies throughout most of North America, excluding the arctic circumpolar region and the southeastern United States. Originally found in the mountains of the west, the cliff swallow has significantly expanded its range during the past 100 to 150 years, due to widespread construction of bridges, buildings, and culverts that provide suitable nesting sites. The cliff swallow is a migratory bird that winters in parts of South America. It is a common resident across the state of Utah, normally in the lowlands, but occasionally in the mountains up to an elevation of 8,500 feet.

The diet of cliff swallows consists primarily of flying insects, although they will occasionally consume large quantities of berries. Birds fly over a stretch of land assessing colony sites before selecting a suitable nesting colony. Pair bonds form as soon as birds reach the nesting colony. Shortly thereafter, both the male and female spend a week or two building a nest of mud that is plastered on the underside of a bridge, on a cliff, under the eaves of a building, in a highway culvert, or on another vertical surface. Both parents incubate their three eggs for about two weeks. Cliff swallows will often lay eggs in, or even transfer their own eggs to, a neighboring nest. Those individuals that parasitize a neighbor's nest, however, will also raise a brood themselves. Both parents feed the nestlings, and after the young leave the nest (at about the third week), the parents feed them for another three to five days. The young eventually form large groups comprised of chicks of similar ages. Cliff swallows are able to distinguish the calls of their own young from the calls of others, which enables the adults to feed their own chicks after their chicks have joined the large group.

Sources:

  • Behle, W. H., Sorensen, E. D. and C. M. White. 1985. Utah birds: a revised checklist. Utah Museum of Natural History, Occasional Publication No. 4. Salt Lake City, UT.

  • Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birderís handbook[:] a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon & Schuster, New York. xxx + 785 pp.

  • Brown, C. R. and M. B. Brown. 1995. Cliff Swallow (Hirundo pyrrhonota). Birds of North America 149.

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