Photo: H. Clarke/Vireo

White-throated Swift

Aeronautes saxatalis

Around rocky cliffs and canyon edges in the west, little groups of these elegant swifts go hurtling past the crags, calling in shrill voices. This species has been claimed to be one of our fastest flying birds, and any observer who has seen them pass at close range will believe it. White-throated Swifts are very wide-ranging, probably foraging in the air many miles from their nesting sites at times.
Conservation status Like other swifts, could be affected by overuse of pesticides. Currently common and widespread, numbers apparently stable.
Family Swifts
Habitat Open sky, cruising widely. May be seen in the air over virtually any western habitat, wherever there might be flying insects. Breeds in crevices in cliffs, mostly in dry mountains and canyons, locally on sea cliffs.
Around rocky cliffs and canyon edges in the west, little groups of these elegant swifts go hurtling past the crags, calling in shrill voices. This species has been claimed to be one of our fastest flying birds, and any observer who has seen them pass at close range will believe it. White-throated Swifts are very wide-ranging, probably foraging in the air many miles from their nesting sites at times.
Photo Gallery
Feeding Behavior

Forages only in flight. May forage high or low, depending on weather conditions. Typically seen foraging in flocks.


Eggs

4-5, sometimes 3-6. White, often becoming stained or spotted in the nest. Incubation is probably by both parents, about 20-27 days. Young: Apparently fed by both parents. Young are probably able to climb about inside nesting crevice before they are old enough to fly. Age at first flight may be about six weeks.


Young

Apparently fed by both parents. Young are probably able to climb about inside nesting crevice before they are old enough to fly. Age at first flight may be about six weeks.

Diet

Flying insects. Feeds on a wide variety of flying insects, including flies, beetles, true bugs, wasps, and others. May feed heavily on winged adult ants during an emergence of these insects.


Nesting

Many details of nesting remain poorly known, partly because the nest sites are so inaccessible. Courtship involves aerial displays; birds also mate while in flight, sometimes joining and then tumbling down for hundreds of feet. Nest site is usually in narrow vertical crevice in high cliff. Sometimes nests in crevices in buildings. Same site may be used for many years. Nest is shaped like shallow half saucer; made of feathers, weeds, grasses, glued together and to wall of crevice with the birds' saliva.

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

Migration

Northern breeders move south in fall. Found all year in much of southwest (only swift likely to be seen in North America in winter). During cool winter weather, may become torpid to conserve energy.

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Migration

Northern breeders move south in fall. Found all year in much of southwest (only swift likely to be seen in North America in winter). During cool winter weather, may become torpid to conserve energy.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A prolonged series of grating notes, jee-jee-jee-jee-jee.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the White-throated 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 White-throated 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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