Photo: Manuel Marin/Vireo

Black Swift

Cypseloides niger

The largest swift normally found in North America, uncommon and local in the far west. Where it occurs, it may be seen flying very high, gliding and wheeling gracefully in pursuit of flying insects. The Black Swift seems to be limited in range by its very particular choice of nesting sites: it requires shady, sheltered spots on vertical cliffs totally inaccessible to predators, and often nests on the damp rock behind waterfalls.
Conservation status Uncommon and local, and surveys suggest that populations have been declining significantly in recent years.
Family Swifts
Habitat Open sky over mountains, coastal cliffs. Forages widely over any kind of terrain but is still very local in its occurrence, probably limited to regions with suitable nesting sites. Nests on ledges or in crevices in steep cliffs, either along coast or near streams or waterfalls in mountains.
The largest swift normally found in North America, uncommon and local in the far west. Where it occurs, it may be seen flying very high, gliding and wheeling gracefully in pursuit of flying insects. The Black Swift seems to be limited in range by its very particular choice of nesting sites: it requires shady, sheltered spots on vertical cliffs totally inaccessible to predators, and often nests on the damp rock behind waterfalls.
Photo Gallery
  • juvenile
  • adult
  • in flight
Feeding Behavior

Forages only while flying. Flight is rapid and often very high; bird scoops insects out of the air with its wide bill. May forage singly or in small flocks.


Eggs

1. White, becoming nest-stained. Incubation is by both parents, 24-27 days. Young: Both parents feed and care for young bird, which remains in nest until ready to fly (not climbing about like the young of some other swifts). Age at first flight about 45-49 days.


Young

Both parents feed and care for young bird, which remains in nest until ready to fly (not climbing about like the young of some other swifts). Age at first flight about 45-49 days.

Diet

Flying insects. Feeds on a wide variety of flying insects, including wasps, flies, mayflies, caddisflies, beetles, and others, also spiders. At times may feed heavily on emerging swarms of winged adult ants or termites.


Nesting

Courtship apparently involves long aerial chases, and the birds also mate while flying. May nest in small colonies. Nest site is on ledge sheltered by overhang or in protected crevice on cliff, along rocky coast or in mountainous country. Mountain nest sites are often behind waterfalls, in spots where nest is continuously damp from spray. Sites are usually inaccessible. Nest is a small saucer of mud, moss, ferns, sometimes lined with fine plant material. Same site may be reused for years, with material added each time.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Summer resident in North America, arriving in late spring, departing in early fall. Their winter range was unknown until very recently, but studies with geolocators (published in 2012) have revealed that at least some of the birds spend the winter in western Brazil.

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Migration

Summer resident in North America, arriving in late spring, departing in early fall. Their winter range was unknown until very recently, but studies with geolocators (published in 2012) have revealed that at least some of the birds spend the winter in western Brazil.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Less vocal than other swifts. Gives soft, high-pitched twitter: twit-twit-twit-twit.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Swifts Swallow-like Birds

Black Swift

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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