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Species Guide

American Black Swift

Cypseloides niger

The American black swift, or simply black swift (Cypseloides niger), is a bird of remarkable design, akin to a flying cigar with its long, slender, and curved wings. Its plumage is predominantly a sooty, dark gray, providing some contrast between the inner and outer portions of the wings. Notably, the shoulders are a distinctly darker shade than the rest of the wing. The tail is short and exhibits a subtle fork.

Identification Tips

When observing these swifts, look for their unique silhouette in flight, characterized by elongated wings and a streamlined body. The darker shoulders and slightly forked tail are key features to distinguish them from similar species.


The American black swift is often found in lofty habitats, nesting on high cliff faces near the ocean or behind cascading waterfalls. These locations provide the necessary seclusion and protection for their breeding activities.


This species ranges from northern British Columbia in Canada, through the United States and Mexico, down to Costa Rica and Brazil. It is also present in the Caribbean. Notably, fewer than 150 breeding sites are known in the United States.


These swifts are late spring migrants, arriving at their breeding sites in North America by the end of May or June. They are known to migrate out of North America after the breeding season, with some wintering in the lowland rainforests of western Brazil. Their migratory patterns are still not fully understood, and sightings of large flocks are rare, especially far south of their U.S. breeding range.

Song & Calls

The vocalizations of the American black swift are less documented in this guide, but like many swifts, they may emit sharp, chattering calls in flight.


Breeding sites are typically associated with water, with nests constructed on high cliffs either above the ocean or adjacent to waterfalls. The nest is a composition of twigs and moss cemented with mud, occasionally incorporating ferns and seaweed. Clutch size is one egg, incubated for 23 to 27 days. The feeding frequency of the young varies with age, with older nestlings typically fed once daily at dusk.

Similar Species

The American black swift may be confused with other swift species, but its darker shoulder patches and habitat preferences can help differentiate it.

Diet and Feeding

The diet consists primarily of flying insects, such as ants and beetles, which they capture in flight. They are often seen foraging in small groups, living a life almost entirely on the wing.

Conservation status

The IUCN Red List has classified the American black swift as Vulnerable, indicating that the species faces a high risk of endangerment in the wild. Conservation efforts are essential to ensure the survival of this enigmatic bird.

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American Black Swifts on Birda


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