Bird GuideSwiftsWhite-throated Swift

At a Glance

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.
Swallow-like Birds, Swifts
Low Concern
Arroyos and Canyons, Desert and Arid Habitats, Forests and Woodlands, High Mountains, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
California, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Erratic, Rapid Wingbeats, Swooping

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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.


6-7" (15-18 cm). Our only swift with white and black pattern. Tail longer than in other swifts, and slightly forked. Violet-green Swallow, often seen flying in same areas, is similar but has shorter wings, slower flight, lacks black stripe on side below wing.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, White
Wing Shape
Long, Narrow, Pointed, Tapered
Tail Shape
Long, Notched, Pointed, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

A prolonged series of grating notes, jee-jee-jee-jee-jee.
Call Pattern
Flat, Undulating
Call Type
Chirp/Chip, Scream, Trill


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.



4-5, sometimes 3-6. White, often becoming stained or spotted in the nest. Incubation is probably by both parents, about 20-27 days.


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.

Feeding Behavior

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


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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Like other swifts, could be affected by overuse of pesticides. Currently common and widespread, numbers apparently stable.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the White-throated Swift. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

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.