Swallow or Swift?

Chimney swifts (from the Crossley ID Guide Eastern Birds via Wikimedia Commons)

20 July 2022

Whoosh! Fast moving birds circle, swoop, rise and fall as they eat flying insects. Swallows and swifts move so fast that it’s hard to identify them in flight. With one swift and six swallow species in our area(*) the first step is to decide: “Is that a Swallow or a Swift?

This stop-action photo by Patrick bx (@bronxfxdc) makes it easy to see the differences described by audubon.org below.

Is That a Swallow or a Swift? Identification clues from Audubon.org.

Even from a distance these two swallow plates from Crossley ID show many features that are different from the chimney swifts at top.

Tree swallows and northern rough-winged swallows (from Crossley ID Guide to Eastern Birds via Wikimedia Commons)

And finally, chimney swifts make a unique chittering sound in flight.

Swallow or swift? You’ll get plenty of practice in the coming weeks as the birds gather for fall migration.

(*) p.s. Here are the swallow and swift species that occur in our area — southwestern Pennsylvania.

(photos from Patrick bx (@bronxfxdc) embedded tweet & the Crossley ID Guide to Eastern Birds via Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

One thought on “Swallow or Swift?

  1. Yesterday evening when my husband and I got out of our car around 8:00 pm I immediately heard a group of swifts and saw about 10 of them flying above our house. My husband asked me how I knew they were swifts and not swallows, and I explained the chittering noise and the “flying cigar” look. I used to see them quite a lot when we lived in Upper St. Clair, but since we moved into a rural area in Washington County, I rarely see them.

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