Cave Swallow

Petrochelidon fulva

  • Version: 2.0 — Published July 29, 2011
  • Stephanie Strickler and Steve West

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Cave Swallow in North and Central America.

Species is increasing as a winter resident in s. Texas. See Systematics: Subspecies for details on the ranges of various subspecies.

Adult Cave Swallows at nest, Uvalde, TX, 17 May.

Cave Swallows historically bred in caves throughout their range, but since the development of roads and their associated culverts, Cave Swallows have expanded their nesting habits to include these man-made structures. Note the cup-nest build of tiny mud balls. The following is a link to this photographer's website:

The Cave Swallow is a locally common species that breeds in southeastern New Mexico, Texas, Florida, the Greater Antilles, and portions of Mexico. Although most populations are resident, U.S. breeders generally move south for the winter. As its name suggests, this swallow nests and roosts primarily in caves (which it often shares with bats), although breeding colonies also form in sinkholes and under bridges, culverts, or similar structures. A few small colonies nest in ancient Mayan wells and ruins. Since the mid 1980s, the Cave Swallow has undergone a dramatic range expansion in Texas and has also colonized south Florida. In each of these cases, invasion of new territory has been facilitated by the adoption of bridges and culverts for nesting, with new colonies often springing up along highways.

This species builds its nests of mud and (often) bat guano, cemented to the walls of caves and culverts, often high up and inaccessible. Data on Cave Swallows nesting in caves and sinkholes is generally lacking owing to the inaccessibility of nests in such situations. Among populations, nests vary in shape from an open cup to a semi-enclosed bowl. Females are largely responsible for incubating eggs, but both parents share equally in feeding the nestlings. Birds at the northern edge of the range have at least two, and sometimes three, clutches each season.

Although this species is potentially vulnerable to disturbance when nesting, particularly at night, its numbers are expanding in North America and key colonies appear to be stable. Pesticide contamination could be a problem for the Cave Swallow in some agricultural areas of the southwestern United States and Mexico, although farming does provide these birds with sources of water and insect foods.

Recommended Citation

Strickler, S. and S. West (2011). Cave Swallow (Petrochelidon fulva), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.