Fledgling Cliff Swallow (Probably)

You may enlarge any image in this blog by clicking on it. Click again for a full screen image.

I’m a little hesitant about my identification of the bird in today’s post.  I’m pretty certain that it is a fledgling Cliff Swallow.  However, I cannot completely rule out another possibility so we’ll leave it at “pretty certain.”

I was driving on a rural road in agricultural country northwest of Tucson yesterday when, at a distance, I saw a flock of about 10-15 small birds sitting on a wire fence.  Dozens more of these birds were swooping and diving over an adjacent field, obviously hunting.  Even at a distance I knew that these birds were swallows.  All of the birds — with one exception — flew as I approached them.  One bird stayed back, still perched on the wire, and I photographed it through the open driver’s side window of my car.

The little bird looked very young.  Its hesitancy to fly with its companions struck me as additional evidence that this was a fledgling.  Newly fledged birds are quite often extremely uncertain of themselves.

It was definitely a swallow, but what species?  Fledgling plumage is very often different from adult plumage and it can be easy to be led astray by that.  I showed my images to a few friends, consulted the guides, and came up with a likely answer.  This little bird is a fledgling Cliff Swallow.  Cliff Swallows are a common species with a near-nationwide distribution.  There is a “northern” race of this species and a “Mexican” race.  The latter does make it up into southern Arizona.  However, the more I look at this bird the more convinced I am that this is a “northern” fledgling.  Members of the “northern” race have white foreheads, and this bird is very clearly beginning to grow white plumage on its forehead.

I considered one other possibility when I researched this bird, that being that this is a fledgling Cave Swallow.  Cave Swallows and Cliff Swallows have similar plumage.  However, Cave Swallows are a lot less common in Arizona than are Cliff Swallows and they do not have white foreheads.  So, I’m sticking with Cliff Swallow until proven otherwise.

Images made with a Canon 5Div, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens, aperture priority setting, ISO 400, f7.1.  The first image shot at 1/1600, the second and third images at 1/1250.

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