Creature Feature May 2022: Cliff Swallow

During this time of year, you may notice clusters of jug-shaped, plaster-textured nests on the undersides of cliffs or manmade structures. If you’ve seen these settlements, you’ve probably also seen the small, pointy-winged birds they belong to: cliff swallows. A migratory bird, the Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) is common in the Bay Area during the summer breeding season, its breeding range stretching all the way from Alaska to southern Mexico. These birds are certainly cross-country fliers, making a yearly trip from their northern breeding ranges all the way to their wintering grounds in South America–a large feat for a bird with a wingspan of only 5 inches!

Spotting a mass of cliff swallows migrating in a group or watching them flit in and out of their nest settlements is certainly a treat. However, they can also be spotted foraging in groups, often feeding low over water or high in the air. Their diet mainly consists of flying insects, but they also eat other insects and berries. They lay 3-6 eggs, which are incubated and raised by both parents. Their young leave the nest about 21-23 days after hatching. If watching for this bird, look out for their metallic blue backs and rust-colored faces, as well as their distinctive wing shape and their bright white bellies. Also listen for their calls, which sound like squeaky chattering and twittering.

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