Family Swallows and Martins (Hirundinidae)

Least Concern

Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)


French: Hirondelle à front blanc German: Fahlstirnschwalbe Spanish: Golondrina risquera
Other common names: American Cliff Swallow

Hirundo pyrrhonota


, 1817,



Variation clinal, birds becoming smaller and darker from N to S, and races intergrade. Status of race ganieri not clear, perhaps better merged with nominate. Proposed races hypopolia (Alaska and W Canada S, inland, to EC California, N Utah and NW Wyoming) and aprophata (S Oregon) considered to fall within range of variation of nominate; minima (Arizona, in SW USA) included in melanogaster. Has hybridized with Hirundo rustica, and one record with Tachycineta bicolor. Four subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • P. p. pyrrhonota (Vieillot, 1817) – North America from W & C Alaska and Canada (N Yukon and N Mackenzie E to S Manitoba, S Ontario, S Quebec, Prince Edward I, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) S to NW Mexico (NW Baja California) in W and, in E, to E USA (S to W Virginia, SE Pennsylvania, W Connecticut and NE Massachusetts, with scattered local populations farther S & E); winters South America.
  • P. p. tachina Oberholser, 1903 – S USA (SW Utah S to C Arizona, C New Mexico and SW Texas) S to NW Mexico (Baja California); presumed to winter South America.
  • P. p. melanogaster (Swainson, 1827) – SE Arizona and SW New Mexico S to S Mexico (S to Nayarit and Oaxaca); winters South America.
  • P. p. ganieri (A. R. Phillips, 1986) – S USA W of Appalachians (WC Tennessee S to S Texas); presumed to winter South America.
  • Descriptive notes

    13–15 cm; 17–27 g. Nominate race has white to buffy forehead, black lores, glossy deep blue crown, pale grey-brown hindneck; mantle and back glossy deep blue,... read more


    Song is a rapid squeaky twittering; other calls include a “chur” call used in many... read more


    Open and semi-open areas, especially near water, including grassland, cultivation, forest clearings... read more

    Food and feeding

    In samples taken throughout North America, diet consisted of 29% Hymenoptera (including ants, bees and wasps), 27% beetles (Coleoptera), 27... read more


    Mainly late Apr/May–Jul/early Aug; in USA, first eggs from early Apr in SW (Texas, California) to late May in C & NE (Illinois,... read more


    Long-distance migrant, winters in South America. Forms large post-breeding flocks of hundreds,... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Total population estimated at c. 89,000,000 birds. Common in much of range; common to fairly common in Mexico. In USA, breeding range... read more

    Recommended citation

    Turner, A. (2020). Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 19 February 2020).