White-throated Swift

One of the strongest and fastest fliers in North America, the White-throated Swift is known for their agility and wind-breaking speeds. Their agility, especially, cannot be understated enough since their flights pave way for some of the most acrobatic movements as they chase their insect prey. Their deep dives are also another spectacle that makes these birds stand out, as they often do it in pairs where one bird clings to the back of another.

About White-throated Swifts

These birds breed throughout much of North America, with their breeding range extending from the southern interiors of British Columbia to Mexico and Honduras. Their breeding habitats depend on the availability of high cliffs and bluffs but increasing urbanization has made them adapt and make use of buildings, bridges, and highway overpasses for roosting and nesting. They are aided by their special saliva, a gluelike substance that helps them in sticking the nesting material together in the shape of a cup.

White-throated Swifts give one the impression that they were carefully crafted by nature. Their unmatched agility and impressive speeds not only make them one of the most formidable predators, but they also make them one of the most interesting birds. Today, we are going to be trying to understand these birds a little better.

● White-throated Swift Photos, Color Pattern, Song
● White-throated Swift Size, Eating Behavior, Habitat
● White-throated Swift Range and Migration, Nesting


White-throated Swift Color Pattern

White-throated Swifts don stunning and contrasting black-and-white plumes. Their plumage is a dark blackish-brown contrasting with their white chin, throat, breast, mid-belly, and parts of the flank. Although not very clear from a distance, adults have a dark greenish sheen that is present in the correct light. These birds are not particularly sexually dimorphic, with both sexes looking similar to each other in size and color. Their eyes are large and dark, marked by a white “eyebrow” that contrasts with their brownish-black faces. Juveniles look similar to adults but are duller in color. Their heads and nape appear paler because of the white edges on their feathers.

Description and Identification

These birds are extremely easy to identify during the summers and winters. Large flocks gather at nesting sites early in the day and late in the afternoon before departing together to their foraging sites. Their large eyes and short beaks give them an Owl-like face, but their agile and smooth strides in the air clearly give them away. They are frequent visitors to their traditional feeding spots and can be easily spotted in those areas. Their piercing, grating calls are another indicator of their presence. Their calls can be traced back to their fast movements in the sky. Their wings are much narrower than those of Swallows, making it easier to accurately identify them.

White-throated Swift Song

These Swifts have a distinctive call, especially since they do not have a wide vocal range. Their main call is a long and drawn-out sound that sounds like a rattling “screee”. It is a shrill, laughing “he he he he”, or as a shrill, twittering “tee-dee dee dee dee”. They make these notes while roosting in the morning and evenings which sound like the sounds small chickens make. Other calls include a loud, sharp single note, and a 2-note call that is given in flight. Due to their speed, finding recordings of their calls is rare. Juveniles sound similar to adults, with their begging call bearing resemblance to the “screee” call of the parents. However, their calls are higher in pitch and more persistent and unrelenting.

White-throated Swift Size

White-throated Swifts are large in size. Their long, slender bodies measure 5.9–7.1 inches in length and 1–1.3 ounces in weight. Their wings are long and narrow, curving like a scimitar with sharp points at the wingtips. The wingspan of these birds is roughly 14 inches. Although they appear to be small at a distance due to their slim builds, they are fairly large for Swifts. These proportions make them larger than Vaux’s Swifts, but smaller and slimmer than Purple Martins.

White-throated Swift Behavior

These strong fliers almost rarely ever land, preferring to fly in order to move around. The few times they ever land is when they roost on a surface of a rock. Their flights consist of rapid movements with frequent and erratic changes in direction, comprising of changes in the angle of their wings to produce the most subtle changes, this is commonly seen in updrafts. They can be observed taking advantage of high winds in order to gain speed when flying down a canyon or hillside, and they tend to fly higher and faster than other Swifts. Their general altitude while flying can be anywhere between 33–330 feet above the ground or tops of structure, but they may descend to heights low over the ground while chasing prey.

Aerial chases are often observed between two birds, but the exact context of these chases is still unknown. The courtship between pairs of birds involves courtship, with the two birds chasing each other near nesting cliffs while calling to each other repeatedly. Physical contact between the birds can often occur during the chases. On such occasions, the following bird may cling to the back of the other while in flight and then dive down scores of feet towards the ground, only separating at the last moment. Whether this behavior involves mating or not is unknown.

These birds do not seem to be particularly territorial, with colonies of birds remaining together throughout the year. Pairs also nest close to other pairs during the breeding seasons, departing with other members of the colony to forage for food. The birds also return together to the nest sites. These Swifts are highly social and frequently gather in groups of dozens to hundreds in order to roost together.

White-throated Swift Diet

These birds are mainly insectivores, feeding primarily on insects and spiders. They capture their prey while in flight, rapidly twisting through cliffy terrains in order to keep up in pace. They target air columns that are rich in insects and may forage individually or in small to large groups. Air currents that lead to a higher concentration of insects in the sky are taken advantage of, but they may forage in and around their cliff-side homes as well. Common insect prey includes flies, weevils, hister beetles, lead beetles, rove beetles, skin beetles, flower beetles, stinkbugs, treehoppers, leafhoppers, squash bugs, bees, wasps, and flying ants. They also eat anthropods like spiders if available.

White-throated Swift Habitat

These birds are mainly found in mountainous and hilly areas, inhabiting a wide range of places above forests, meadows, canyons, cliffs, and pinnacles. Their range takes them through a wide variety of habitats throughout the continent, but they require crevices in cliffs to nest in. Recent years have seen them utilize overpasses, quarries, buildings, and bridges for nesting as well. The elevational range at which they nest can go from near ground level to over 11,000 feet in height. The habitats which surround their nesting areas include grasslands, shrubsteppes, and forests. Areas with an abundant amount of insect prey are vital for their survival in any habitat. They may travel large distances from their nesting sites in order to forage and may travel to just about anywhere while migration. Lakes, ponds, and other water bodies in their vicinities are important to them.

Range and Migration

These birds are found breeding all the way from the southern interiors of British Columbia in Canada to Mexico and Honduras. Birds that breed in the northern parts of their range migrate towards Arizona and New Mexico, towards the warmer regions that are more suitable to their lifestyles. These populations mainly winter in south-western California,
eastern Arizona, the Texas Panhandle, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and the Mexican state of Chiapas. Certain populations that breed in coastal and southern California, southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, western Texas, central Mexico, and the Sierra Madre Occidental and Oriental mountains are resident populations that do not migrate.

White-throated Swift Lifecycle

After breeding, females lay 3–6 white eggs. The number of broods that they have in a single year is unknown but judging from their incubation period they probably only have 1 brood. Both parents likely incubate the eggs for about 20–27 days, after which the eggs hatch and the chicks emerge in a naked and helpless state. The young clamber about the nest before they are able to leave their temporary home; however, the age at which they learn to fly is not known. It is presumed that they learn how to fly at 6 weeks.


Both members of the pair scout for nest sites together, with males and females visiting multiple sites before selecting one. It is unclear if anyone member makes the final selection for the nest site. The nest is placed within crevices in rocky terrains, usually at a vertical surface of a canyon wall or cliff. Sometimes, they will use a manmade structure like a bridge or a building as long as it is above 20 feet above the ground. On rare occasions, they will use unused or abandoned nests of other bird species.

The nest itself is likely built by both members of the pair and is a shallow cup made of feathers, grasses, mosses, plant down, and bark. One member collects the material for the nest while the other member is involved in constructing it. The materials are glued together by their sticky saliva, a unique feature to them. Dimensions of the nest may greatly vary, but the average proportions are generally around 5 inches across and 2 inches tall, with the interior cup measuring 3 inches across and 2 inches deep.

Anatomy of a White-throated Swift

White-throated Swifts are relatively large in size, with their long and slender bodies measuring 5.9–7.1 inches in length and 1–1.3 ounces in weight. Their wings are long and narrow, curving like a scimitar with sharp points at the wingtips. The wingspan of these birds is roughly 14 inches. Although they appear to be small at a distance due to their slim builds, they are fairly large for Swifts. These proportions make them larger than Vaux’s Swifts, but smaller and slimmer than Purple Martins.

Final Thoughts

The conservation status of these birds is a little tricky to understand, as their flocks are rather shifty and hard to track. Surveys suggest that they face a decline of 1.7% every year, but this is an educated guess at best. If these numbers are correct, they have suffered a total 56% decline in their total numbers. Common factors that affect them include pesticides which reduce prey and sometimes poison the birds. Cell phone towers and electric lines can often hinder their flights as well.

White-throated Swifts are some of the most fascinating birds in North America. Their agility and speed remind one of gymnastics of the highest level. Their smooth movements have inspired not only the design of later technologies but have also inspired art and other cultural outputs. Although they are not yet fully understood, they continue to capture the attention of all those who know about them. So, what are you waiting for? Travel to some high rises, and try to see if you are treated with a flash of some of the most nimble birds.


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At the Bird Watching Academy & Camp we help kids, youth, and adults get excited and involved in bird watching. We have several monthly subscription boxes that you can subscribe to. Our monthly subscription boxes help kids, youth, and adults learn about birds, bird watching, and bird conservation.

Bird Watching Binoculars for IdentifyingWhite-throated Swifts

The most common types of bird watching binoculars for viewing White-throated Swifts are 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. Bird Watching Academy & Camp sells really nice 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. You can view and purchase them here.

White-throated Swift Stickers

Stickers are a great way for you to display your love for bird watching and the White-throated Swift. We sell a monthly subscription sticker pack. The sticker packs have 12 bird stickers. These sticker packs will help your kids learn new birds every month.

Bird Feeders ForWhite-throated Swifts

There are many types of bird feeders. Bird feeders are a great addition to your backyard. Bird feeders will increase the chances of attracting birds drastically. Both kids and adults will have a great time watching birds eat at these bird feeders. There are a wide variety of bird feeders on the market and it is important to find the best fit for you and your backyard.

Bird HousesForWhite-throated Swifts

There are many types of bird houses. Building a bird house is always fun but can be frustrating. Getting a bird house for kids to watch birds grow is always fun. If you spend a little extra money on bird houses, it will be well worth every penny and they’ll look great.

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