While living up to its name and normally nesting in caves, the Cave Swallow has become more adaptable and now takes advantage of bridges and culverts in which to nest. This has facilitated a northward range expansion of Cave Swallows into north Texas, and the species will likely be found nesting in Oklahoma as well.
Cave Swallows prefer dark areas in which to nest, and they are able to locate their nest by flying past it farther into a cave, and then turning around. Looking outward, the light is stronger and they are able to locate the nest and land safely.
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Description of the Cave Swallow
The Cave Swallow has a dark bluish back and cap, reddish rump and forehead, rusty and whitish underparts, and a slightly forked tail.
Seasonal change in appearance
Juveniles have a browner back and cap.
Open country near water.
Forages by capturing insects in flight.
Breeds in parts of Texas and winters farther south in Mexico.
Once more common in caves and even ancient Mayan ruins, Cave Swallows have adapted to use bridges and culverts for nesting provided they are dark enough.
Cave Swallows often nest in large colonies.
A high-pitched “che” note and chattering calls are made.
Cliff Swallows have a paler forehead and darker throat.
The nest is a mud cup attached to a cave wall, bridge structure, or culvert.
Incubation and fledging:
– Young hatch at 15 days.
– Young fledge (leave the nest) in 20-26 days after hatching.
Bent Life History of the Cave Swallow
Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.
Bent Life History for the Cave Swallow – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
PETROCHELIDON FULVA CAVICOLA Barbour and Brooks
(Current AOU – Cave Swallow)HABITS
The Cuban cliff swallow owes its place on our list to the capture of two specimens by W. E. D. Scott (1890) on Garden Key, Dry Tortugas, Fla., on March 22 and 25, 1890. It was evidently only a ~t.raggler there, as it apparently has not been seen anywhere in Florida since, except for one seen by Mr. Scott at the same place a few days later in a flock of tree swallows. It is apparently confined to Cuba and the Isle of Pines.
In naming this race, Barbour and Brooks (1917) describe it as “similar to Petrochelido’n fulva fulva from Santo Domingo, but a little larger and differently colored. The Cuban birds show a much greater extension of the fulvous area below and a consequent restriction of the white area on the belly. In the Cuban birds the throat and chest are usually more richly colored than in the individuals of true fulva. They also have the rufescent or fulvous area changing gradually into the white or whitish of the mid-ventral region, whereas in the Haitian birds the white is clearer and purer and the boundary of the fulvous zone is quite sharply defined.”
Dr. Barbour (1923) writes of its habits:
In Cuba they arrive in late February and gather In large flocks about the caves in which they nest. Occasionally abandoned buildings are occupied, or even the recesses of a deep veranda, but caves, sometimes open but equally often deep and dark, are the usual breeding-places chosen. A favorite spot is where the river disappears into a limestone cavern right in the town of San Antonio de los Banos. This was an Impossible place to shoot, but Brooks and I found that, when we crept into the cave at night and then flashed an electric torch, the birds came in swarms clinging to our hats and clothes, as phototropic as moths. We soon had plenty, chosen by hand. A nesting-place near Bolondron is in a deep, steep, almost perpendicular, tubular cave mouth, which at first looked like a haunt for bats but nothing else. The old wooden hotel at Herradura had a few nesting under the eaves, and swarms inhabit the great caverns under Moro Castle, perched at the mouth of the bottle harbor of Santiago de Cuba. The nest is of mud, mixed with grasses and feathers, and is not so enclosed as with our Cliff Swallows.
W. E. Clyde Todd (1916) regards it as “a summer resident only” on the Isle of Pines, “of which the winter habitat is still unknown.” He says that in the Caballos Mountains, as early as April 6, “the birds were observed going in and out of holes in the cliffs near the tops of the mountains, where they evidently had eggs or young. These nesting-places were quite inaccessible by ordinary means, but a little later, in the Casas Mountains, some pairs were found with nests only about twenty feet up the face of an exposed cliff.”
I have seen only three eggs of this subspecies; these are quite evenly sprinkled with very 6n6 dots, a type often seen in other eggs of this species and in eggs of our common cliff swallow. The measurements of these three eggs are 20.9 by 14.6, 20.9 by 14.6, and 20.8 by 15.0 millimeters.
Range: This species is not regularly migratory and appears to be confined to the Caribbean region and eastern Mexico, casually to southern Texas and accidental in southern Florida.
The range extends north to southern Texas (Kerr County); Cuba (Trinidad and Guantanamo); northern Haiti (Cap-Haitien and Tortue Island) ; northern Dominican Republic (Monte Cristi and San Lorenzo); and northern Puerto Rico (Aguadilla, Manati, and Bayamon). East to Puerto Rico (Bayamon and Guayama). South to southern Puerto Rico (Guayama and Cabo Rojo); southern Dominican Republic (Ciudad Trujillo); Jamaica (Port Henderson); Yucatan (Izamal and Calcehtok); and Chiapas (Ocozocuantla). West to Chiapas (Ocozocuantla); Tamaulipas (Miquihuana); Coahuila (Saltillo, Sabinas, and Monclova); and Texas (Kerr County).
Several subspecies are recognized. The typical race known as the Hispaniolan cliff swallow (Pet~roohelidon fulva fulva) is confined to the island of Hispaniola. The Cuban cliff swallow (P. /. cavicola) is found in Cuba and on the Isle of Pines. Two specimens of this race were taken at Dry Tortugas, Fla., on March 22 and 25, 1890. The Coahuila cliff swallow (P. f. pallida) is the form found in northeastern Mexico. A pair were taken in Kerr County, Tex., on April 23 and 24, 1910, and this race was later found to be nesting in that area.
Egg dates: Cuba: 1 record, June 10. Texas: 8 records, June 7 and 8.
COAHUILA CLIFF SWALLOW
PETROCHELIDON FULVA PALLIDA Nelson
This is a pale race of a West Indian species that is found in northeastern Mexico, Tamaulipas and Coahuila, and north to Kerr County, Tex. Additional races of the species fulva occur in Cuba, the Isle of Pines, Jamaica, Haiti, Puerto Rico, the Greater Antilles, and perhaps Yucatan and parts of southern Mexico.
Nesting: Qol. John E. Thayer (1915) gives us the only account we have of the nesting habits of this subspecies, as follows:
The Mexican form of Cliff Swallow (Petrocheli4om fulva pallzda), described by Nelson, was found nesting by my collector near Japonica in Kerr County, Texas, during the month of June, 1914. He collected a series of birds and eleven sets of eggs. There was rather a large colony nesting in a cave. The entrance of this cave was like a mine shaft. The ceiling was covered with holes where the water had once eroded into the limestone rock. The Swallows nest in these holes, plastering a little mud like a balcony to hold the eggs in. A forty foot ladder was used to get up to them. The cave was poorly lighted and very damp. It was 50 feet from the floor of the cave to the ground, where the entrance was. The opening was about 8 ft. in diameter. About 10 feet down, the cave widened out into a spacious chamber. The only light was from the shaft-like entrance. To enter the birds pitched head first and diverged into the semi-dark chamber and began a detour of circles to check the impetus of their plunge.”
Eggs: The series of eggs taken by Colonel Thayer’s collector contained two sets of three, eight sets of four, and one set of five eggs. I have examined these eggs and cannot see that they differ materially from the eggs of our common cliff swallow, except for a slight average difference in size. The measurements of the 43 eggs average 19.5 by 14.0 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 2L6 by 14.3, 20.5 by 14.8, 17.3 by 13.7, and 20.2 by 13.5 millimeters.