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.
Photo Gallery
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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.

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

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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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.

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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.
Learn more about this sound collection.