Birds – Cliff Swallow

(Petrochelidon lunifrons)


Length—6 inches. A trifle smaller than the English sparrow. Apparently considerably larger because of its wide wing-spread.

Male and Female—Steel-blue above, shading to blue-black on crown of head and on wings and tail. A brownish-gray ring around the neck. Beneath dusty white, with rufous tint. Crescent-like frontlet. Chin, throat, sides of head, and tail coverts rufous.

Range—North and South America. Winters in the tropics: Migrations—Early April. Late September. Summer resident.

Not quite so brilliantly colored as the barn swallow, nor with tail so deeply forked, and consequently without so much grace in flying, and with a squeak rather than the really musical twitter of the gayer bird, the cliff swallow may be positively identified by the rufous feathers of its tail coverts, but more definitely by its crescent-shaped frontlet shining like a new moon; hence its specific Latin name from luna= moon, and frons=front.

Such great numbers of these swallows have been seen in the far West that the name of Rocky Mountain swallows is some-times given to them; though however rare they may have been in 1824, when DeWitt Clinton thought he ” discovered ” them near Lake Champlain, they are now common enough in all parts of the United States.

In the West this swallow is wholly a cliff-dweller, but it has learned to modify its home in different localities. As usually seen, it is gourd-shaped, opened at the top, built entirely of mud pellets (” bricks without straw “), softly lined with feathers and wisps of grass, and attached by the larger part to a projecting cliff or eave.

Like all the swallows, this bird lives in colonies, and the clay-colored nests beneath the eaves of barns are often so close together that a group of them resembles nothing so much as a gigantic wasp’s nest. It is said that when swallows pair they are mated for life ; but, then, more is said about swallows than the most tireless bird-lover could substantiate. The tradition that swallows fly low when it is going to rain may be easily credited, because the air before a storm is usually too heavy with moisture for the winged insects, upon which the swallows feed, to fly high.