Photo: Greg W. Lasley/Vireo

Cave Swallow

Petrochelidon fulva

As recently as the 1960s, this was a rare bird in the United States. It nested only in a few southwestern caves, plastering its cuplike mud nest against the walls in the dimly lit interior. Since then it has "learned" to nest in artificial sites, in culverts and under bridges, and it has become a common summer bird across much of Texas and southern New Mexico (with an outlying colony in Florida). In some places, Cave Swallows may actively compete with Cliff Swallows for these artificial nest sites.
Conservation status Range has expanded and population has greatly increased in recent decades.
Family Swallows
Habitat Semi-open country. Forages over any kind of open or semi-open terrain, especially near water. Breeding was formerly limited by scarcity of nest sites in natural caves or sinkholes. Now nests under bridges and in culverts, buildings, silos, many other artificial sites, allowing species to spread into new habitats.
As recently as the 1960s, this was a rare bird in the United States. It nested only in a few southwestern caves, plastering its cuplike mud nest against the walls in the dimly lit interior. Since then it has "learned" to nest in artificial sites, in culverts and under bridges, and it has become a common summer bird across much of Texas and southern New Mexico (with an outlying colony in Florida). In some places, Cave Swallows may actively compete with Cliff Swallows for these artificial nest sites.
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Feeding Behavior

Forages almost entirely in flight. May forage low over water or may forage much higher, mainly in clear warm weather. Often forages in flocks.


Eggs

3-4, sometimes 2-5. White, finely spotted with brown and purple. Incubation is probably by both parents, thought to be about 15 days. Young: Both parents bring food for nestlings. Young leave nest at about 20-26 days.


Young

Both parents bring food for nestlings. Young leave nest at about 20-26 days.

Diet

Insects. Diet not known in detail, but feeds on a wide variety of flying insects, including beetles, flies, true bugs, wasps, bees, winged ants, grasshoppers, lacewings, moths, and others.


Nesting

Typically nests in colonies, sometimes with hundreds of pairs. Nest: Natural site is on steep wall of cave or sinkhole, in area away from entrance but with at least some light. Artificial sites are on vertical surfaces in culverts, under bridges, or in buildings; in Yucatan Peninsula, may nest in ancient Mayan temples. In well-sheltered sites, nests may last for years and be used repeatedly. Nest (built by both sexes) is an open cup of mud plastered against wall. Birds in natural sites gather mud on cave bottom, where it often contains much bat guano. Nest is lined with grass, bark fibers, plant down, and feathers.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Small Florida population supposedly winters in West Indies. Winter range of southwestern birds poorly known. In recent years, has begun wintering regularly in Texas. A remarkable dispersal now brings numbers of Cave Swallows to the middle Atlantic Coast and parts of the Great Lakes, far north of their breeding range, almost every year in late fall.

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Migration

Small Florida population supposedly winters in West Indies. Winter range of southwestern birds poorly known. In recent years, has begun wintering regularly in Texas. A remarkable dispersal now brings numbers of Cave Swallows to the middle Atlantic Coast and parts of the Great Lakes, far north of their breeding range, almost every year in late fall.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Series of squeaks, twitters, and warbles.
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
Swallows Swallow-like Birds

Cave Swallow

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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