Cliff Swallows, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota, Etna, Tompkins Co., NY. 25 June 2000.


Uncommon in the Cayuga Lake Basin, Cliff Swallows can be found in a few scattered locations breeding on barns and houses. A small colony of unknown number bred in 2000 on a house on Etna Road, to the west of Wood Road, NW of Etna, NY. These pictures were taken with an Olympus D-450 digital camera through a Swarovski HD80 spotting scope.


Adult Cliff Swallow



Juvenile Cliff Swallow


Swallows in juvenal plumage can be a bit tricky. I remember that my first Cliff Swallow was actually a juvenal Barn Swallow (short tail, rusty with a dark throat). Notice that the juvenal Cliff has a dark forehead, and only a hint of stripes on the back. Unlike the illustration in the National Geographic guide, the bill is light yellow. The tail appears more notched than the adult because of the more pointed shape of each individual tail feather (typical for most Passerines; adults have more square-tipped tail feathers and immatures have more pointed ones). Fortunately the pale rump is very obvious in both plumages.




This juvenile begged at any swallow that came near (even Barn Swallows). The pictured adult perched near the juv, but did not feed it. I missed photographing the only feeding that took place while we watched.


These photos of specimens in the Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates illustrate the differences between adult and juvenal plumage. (Click on the images for larger versions of the photos.)


Note that the western race P. p. swainsoni (= "melanogaster") has a dark brown to cinnamon forehead, approximately matching the throat color in adults. Otherwise, it looks mostly like adults of the other subspecies.


All photos Kevin J. McGowan

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Revised: April 06, 2005.