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Mystery Of The Disappearing Swifts Solved After 150 Years
Posted on Friday, March 23, 2012 by eNature
Black Swift on nest.
Black Swift on nest.
Range of Black Swift
Range of Black Swift

A 150 year old mystery has finally been solved.

Since first identified as separate species in 1857, the Black Swift’s winter habitat has long been a mystery to ornithologists. 

The birds simply seemed to vanish after spending the spring and summer in their breeding grounds in western North America. 

In a new study which was published in the March 2012 issue of Wilson Journal of Ornithology, scientists have learned that at least some of the birds travel over 4,000 miles to a remote part of western Brazil in lowland rainforest.  The researchers attached tiny geolocators to four Black Swifts (see photo to right) in two different nesting sites in Colorado and were able to recapture the four birds the following year and download the data in the geolocator devices.

A Quick Journey
The swifts lived up to their names. They moved fast while migrating; departing Colorado between the 10th and 19th of September and arriving Brazil between the 28th of September and 12th of October.  Their trip north was just as fast, leaving between the 9th and 20th of May and arriving back in Colorado between the 23th of May and the 18th of June.

A Life On The Wing
The birds generally nest on high cliff faces near water, often above ocean surf or near to waterfalls.  There are only about 100 know Black Swift nesting location in North America, all in the western states of the U.S. and Canada.

American Black Swifts live on the wing, foraging in flight for flying insects. They often feed in groups, flying closely together.

They are among the last migrants to appear and are often observed migrating as late as mid-June to early July. The swifts tend to migrate in large flocks.

Who’s arriving in your neighborhood?  The mild winter most of the country has experienced seems to have moved up the schedule for most of our spring arrivals.


Black Swift information in eNature field guide »

American Bird Conservancy press release about Black Swift research »



Great story.  Would like to know more about those geolocators.

Posted by Bob on 3/23

I see one little red spot in california on that map right where I live, I will start watching for them.

Posted by Steve on 3/23

Very interesting article.

Those geolocators are quite impressive!


Posted by Luc on 3/23

Very cool story…and bird.

Posted by Judy on 3/24

I saw a family of these birds in a remote location in a New Mexico state park. Good luck finding them on your own. You really need a bird tour guide to find them.

Posted by Jeanne held-Warmkessel on 3/24

Email notifications from blog are now containing some spam characteristcs when passed on. I do not want others’ comments any longer for that reason. It appears in a paragraph form at the bottom of the notification. This is the only way I know of for contacting ‘blog’ to tell you. It appears when I receive the ‘pass on’ notifications. Stop sending the notifications. Clicking on the link did no good.

Posted by Judy on 3/26
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