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New Jersey Endangered and Threatened Species Field Guide

Image of Adult cliff swallows at their nests.Zoom+ Adult cliff swallows at their nests. Image courtesy of Flickr user Marlin Harms.

Cliff swallow

Petrochelidon pyrrhonota

Species Group: Bird

Conservation Status

State: Special Concern (Breeding)



The cliff swallow is an active and acrobatic flyer with an 11 to 13 inch wingspan and about 5 to 6 inches long. The cliff swallow has a dark cap which extends below its eye and chestnut coloring on its cheeks, side of neck, and throat. It also has an orange-buff rump and a cream to buff-colored forehead patch. The bottom portion of its body is whitish and in flight, it has short triangular wings and a square tail.

Image of Range of the cliff swallow in New Jersey.Zoom+ Range of the cliff swallow in New Jersey.


The cliff swallow can be found throughout most of North America during the breeding season. It winters in South America as far south as Argentina.

Cliff swallows nest in small to large colonies on cliff faces or manmade structures. They frequently nest underneath bridges over water bodies. They may occasionally nest alongside barn swallows (Hirundo rustica). Cliff swallows inhabit open to semi-wooded areas generally near meadows, marshes, or water.


Cliff swallows are insectivorous and feed while flying. They will feed on mosquitoes, flying ants, beetles, wasps, and other swarming insects.


The cliff swallow’s gourd-shaped nest is constructed out of mud and saliva by both the male and female. The only time swallows are usually seen on the ground is when they are collecting mud for use in their nest. It takes between 3 to 27 days for the nest to be constructed.

Between 3 to 6 eggs are laid between April and June. Both adults incubate the eggs for 12 to 14 days and the young are cared for by both parents. The young cliff swallows are usually ready for their first flight after 23 days. Cliff swallows depart their breeding area after their nestlings fledge as early as late June, although some individuals may linger in their breeding area as late as November.

Image of An adult cliff swallow in flight.Zoom+ An adult cliff swallow in flight. Image courtesy of Flickr user Don DeBold.


Cliff swallows are considered locally common in some areas within their range and vulnerable in other areas. It is listed as a Species of Special Concern in New Jersey (not yet endangered or threatened but on its way). Because they often live in close proximity to humans and nest on manmade structures, they are sometimes considered a pest and their nests are destroyed. Destroying nests within the breeding season is illegal however.

House sparrows (Passer domesticus) are known to move into old swallow nests and even drive off adult swallows from their nests. House sparrows are a non-native invasive species which were brought into North and South America from Europe. They have caused declines in many native bird species by competing with them for resources, including nesting sites.

Text written by Michael J. Davenport in 2011.

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
    Phylum: Chordata
       Class: Aves
          Order: Passeriformes
             Family: Hirundinidae
                Genus: Petrochelidon
                   Species: P. pyrrhonota

Find Related Info: Special concern

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Download the complete list of New Jersey's Endangered, Threatened, & Special Concern species.