Researcher removing geolocator from Black Swift
© Todd Patrick
Black Swift on nest.
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.