Black Swift (Cypseloides niger)
The Black Swift (Cypseloides niger), like other swifts, spends most of its time in the air. A nearctic-neotropical migrant bird species, the Black Swift breeds in areas ranging from Alaska to California, Montana and Colorado. During the winter months you will spot them in the tropics. If you are traveling through mountains or near coastal cliffs in the range of the Black Swift you are more likely to see them.
How can you identify the Black Swift? This bird species has the typical swift shape with a cigar-shaped body and crescent wings. The Black Swift is, however, a large and rather bulky swift measuring 7 inches in length. The tail is short with a deep notch. All the plumage is black except for its whitish forehead which is only seen at close quarters. Juvenile Black Swifts are marked by little white flecks. To clarify your identification of this quick moving bird, listen out for its harsh ci-chi-chi-chit call.
Black Swifts tend to be habitat specific, requiring particular conditions for nesting. Their prefered habitat is in forests near rivers. Typically they will nest behind waterfalls or even on wet cliffs and sometimes in limestone caves. These swifts enjoy a nesting environment that is damp, dark and difficult for predators to reach. Another important factor when choosing a nest site is that it must have an easy flyway for entering and leaving the nest. Because of their very particular nesting requirements, Black Swifts’ distribution is very patchy. The nests are constructed in a cup-like shape made of mud, algae and moss. Black Swifts will either nest on their own or may become part of a small colony. The female bird will lay just one egg in June or July which both parents take turns incubating. Incubation lasts about 4 weeks. The young swift will be able to fly at between 45 and 49 days old.
Black Swifts forage whilst flying either singly or in groups. They frequently forage in wide open areas or above the forest canopy in search of small airborne insects. These are certainly fascinating birds that you will want to watch out for.