Cave Swallow – Accepted

1. 08 Aug 1987


vic. Westmorland IMP



Fig. 259, ph., Patten & Erickson (1994)

2. 06 May 1995


Sheldon Reservoir IMP




3. 21 May 1995


Wister IMP





Cave Swallow – Not accepted, identification not established

29 Apr 1999


Prado Regional Park SBE











Figure 259. The Cave Swallow has become a routine late fall vagrant along the Atlantic coast and in the Northeast, with occasional pushes farther north into the Maritime Provinces and a few spring records, as well. It is also being recorded with increasing frequency in the Great Lakes region and on the Great Plains north of its usual range, but it remains a scarce vagrant in the Southwest, with only a handful of records for Arizona and just three for California. The state’s first Cave Swallow, photographed on 8 August 1987 near Westmorland, Imperial County, associated with a massive flock of swallows, including the Tree Swallow shown here on the right (1990-030; John O’Brien).






Cave Swallow

CAVE SWALLOW Petrochelidon fulva (Vieillot, 1807)

Accepted: 3 (75%)

Treated in Appendix H: no

Not accepted: 1

CBRC review: all records

Not submitted/reviewed: 0

Color image: see Figure

This swallow breeds in parts of North and Middle America and in the West Indies, with the pale P. f. pallida (see Gosselin 2000) occurring in north-central Mexico and the Southwest (east to north-central Texas). First found breeding in southwestern Texas in 1915 (Thayer 1915), by 1930 these birds had spread into southeastern New Mexico (Johnston 1960). The Texas breeding range increased by approximately 900% between 1957 and 1999 (Kosciuch et al. 2006), and numbers of these birds winter in southern Texas (Lockwood and Freeman 2004). A few pairs have bred in southwestern Louisiana since 1997 (e.g., FN 51:882). Generally darker birds occur in the West Indies, on the Yucatan Peninsula, and in central Chiapas (see Garrido et al. 1999). In the mid 1980s, migratory P. f. fulva colonized southern Florida from Cuba (Smith and Robertson 1988). West Indian P. f. cavicola, very similar to fulva, has been recorded as a vagrant in southern Florida. Two Nova Scotia specimens were ascribed to cavicola by Tufts (1986) and to nominate fulva by Godfrey (1986).

As summarized by McNair and Post (2001), northerly extralimital records—most involving pallida but with a few spring records of fulva—started to increase dramatically around 1980. More than 100 birds were recorded in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions during late fall 1999 (Bannon 1999, Curry and McLaughlin 2000), and hundreds were recorded from Florida north to Ontario, Connecticut, and Rhode Island during fall 2002 (Wormington 2002, NAB 57:14-16). A moderate influx in 2003 generated the first records from New Hampshire and Massachusetts (NAB 58:40), and then fall 2005 brought a torrent of nearly 1500 northerly vagrants, most of them in New York and New Jersey but with records west to Wisconsin and north to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (Dinsmore and Farnsworth 2006). The species has also been recorded east to Bermuda, south to Panama, and west to California’s Imperial Valley. In Tucson, Arizona, a Cave Swallow was recorded at a Cliff Swallow colony during the periods of 11 May–7 June 1979 and 11 April–27 May 1980, and for unspecified stays in 1981 and 1982 (Rosenberg and Witzeman 1999). A pair successfully fledged three young at the same location between 17 May and 19 July 1983 (Huels 1984). At least one bird returned annually through 1987 (Rosenberg and Witzeman 1999) and attempted breeding with Cliff Swallows (Huels 1985). Cave Swallows have also been recorded in Arizona at Kino Springs on 17 August 1991 and near Phoenix from 27 to 31 December 1987 (Rosenberg and Witzeman 1999). The report of breeding in northern Arizona (AOU 1998) appears to be erroneous (see McNair and Post 2001).

California’s first Cave Swallow, a probable adult, was photographed on 8 August 1987 near Westmorland in Imperial County (Figure 259). Committee reports have not commented on the subspecies of any of the three birds recorded in California, but pallida is the most likely candidate, and McNair and Post (2001:491) made this determination for the first state record from the photograph. Timing of the three California records—two from May and one from early August—meshes with the pattern established in Arizona.

Observers are encouraged to scrutinize Petrochelidon swallows, particularly in late fall and winter, and should be aware (a) that juvenile Cliff Swallows can closely resemble Cave Swallows and (b) that Cliff Swallow × Barn Swallow hybrids present another pitfall (Martin 1980); such hybrids have been identified, at least tentatively, four times in California (Rogers and Jaramillo 2002).


[GREAT TIT Parus major (Linnaeus, 1758) – see hypothetical section]

[BRIDLED TITMOUSE Baeolophus wollweberi (Bonaparte, 1850) – see hypothetical section]