AMERICAN CLIFF SWALLOW(Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) – (See images below)
DESCRIPTION: The American Cliff Swallow has dark blue-grey upper parts and creamish under parts, with a short square tail. There is a white forehead and the throat is dark red-brown. The rump is light beige. Sexes are similar but juveniles lack the white forehead and the dark red-brown throat. It measures approximately 12 cm (5 inches) long.
NAME:  This bird is also called American Cliff Swallow. The name ‘Swallow’ refers to the bird’s diet and the way it obtains its prey, by swallowing them with a wide open mouth while flying. The Latin genus name ‘petrochelidon’ is ancient Greek meaning ‘rock’ and ‘swallow’, and ‘pyrrhonota’ refers to the ‘flame-colored’ back of the bird.
HABITAT: Mountain cliffs, fields or ponds.
DIET: Insects caught on the fly.
NESTING: The nest of the cliff swallow is made of mud mixed with the bird’s saliva. Around five eggs are laid, which are incubated by both parents. They also both feed the chicks.
This swallow nests in colonies that may contain up to thousands of nests. However with the number of nests in a colony the risk of parasites increases. This bird species also practices some intra-parasitism, where females lay their eggs in other birds’ nests.  Although the name of this swallow species refers to its habit of nesting along vertical surfaces in natural settings, it has well adapted to human-built structures that suit its preferences.
DISTRIBUTION: The main distribution range of the cliff swallow is located in western North America. There’s even a festival at Mission San Juan Capistrano, in California, to celebrate the return of the swallows from their winter migration in Argentina.
With the construction of infrastructure such as bridges and overpasses, this bird species extended its breeding range to the whole of North America except the northern Canadian forests and tundra. The Maritimes are at the northeast end of the bird’s current range. The wintering grounds of the cliff swallow cover the northern half of South America except the Amazonia. Some individuals have been able to reach Hawaii as vagrants.
ON PEI: There has been only one report of nesting cliff swallows on Prince Edward Island in the last 20 years (as of 2012). There are also only occasional sightings of this bird on the island. It is listed as ‘extirpated’ from PEI as per the Maritime Breeding Bird Atlas.
CONSERVATION: The population of this swallow is estimated at 40 million and appears stable. In some areas the House Sparrow is taking over the swallows nest, but this seems to be compensated by the ability of the swallow to build its nest on man-made structures.
Vagrancy: In biology this means an animal going way outside its normal range. For birds, this can happen when there are storms and they get blown off course. On other times, the bird simply wanders in a different direction than usual. Here’s an article about vagrancy in birds.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Barn Swallow, Bank Swallow, Tree Swallow
REFERENCES: (Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas) (Missouri Department of Conservation)

Cliff swallows, Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area, QC - photo by Cephas
Cliff swallows, Cap Tourmente
National Wildlife Area, QC, Cephas
Cliff swallows collecting mud in a puddle Prince Edward Point, ON - photo by Gordon E. Robertson
Cliff swallows collecting mud in a puddle
Prince Edward Point, ON, Gordon E. Robertson