Adult. Photo: Aaron Maizlish/Flickr (CC BY NC 2.0)

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.
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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 Will Reshape the Range of the Black Swift

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Black Swift

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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