Rec# 16-2001 - Black Swift
Original Document (scanned)
Black Swift Nest Located in Central Utah
Merrill Webb and Antoinette Sitting Up
August 24, 2001
Forest service personnel began looking for Black Swifts, Cypeloides niger, on
National Forest on July 14, 2001. The following information lists dates and numbers of this
species observed beginning with that date.
The first survey started with a two hour observation at Bridal Veil Falls in Provo Canyon on
July 14, 2001. Although no swifts were observed at that location one of us (mw) was collecting
insects in the afternoon on that date at Timber Lake Estates east of Heber City, about 30 miles
east of the above mentioned falls, when four Black Swifts were observed foraging low over the
On July 24 four Black Swifts were observed flying high over Provo Canyon to the north of
Bridal Veil Falls at 10:00 A.M.
On August 9 three swifts were observed in the vicinity of Stewart Falls south of the Aspen
Grove trail head to Mount Timpanogos at 8:30 A.M. Stewart Falls is just over the mountain
north of Provo Canyon about 5-6 miles, At Stewart Falls on August 13 a lone Black Swift was
observed flying into the falls. It flew back out about five minutes later and disappeared from view
as it flew down canyon to the east. This was at 8:35 P.M. Again at Stewart Falls, on August 20,
during a morning observation two Black Swifts were observed foraging with at least 10 White-
throated Swifts, These observations were at 10:15, 10:51, and again at 11:00 A.M.
An early morning search at Stewart Falls on August 21 resulted in the discovery of a bird on a
nest. Because of the size of the bird we assumed it to be an adult. It was very dark with white
markings on the forehead and under the beak. However, additional information indicates that the
juvenile Black Swift differs from the adult in that its head, remiges and particularly its underbody
are more extensively white winged (Chantlet and Driessens, 1995). Bent quotes an Enid Michael
who had a young Black Swift brought to her on August 10, 1932, that had fallen out of a nest and
was unable to fly; from what she had previously learned from her study of young swifts in their
nests, she estimated that this bird was about five weeks old; and she says: "Every feather on its
back, tail, wings and crown was daintily tipped with white. The tiny feathers of its crown and
forehead, being fringed with white, gave its crown, and especially its forehead, a frosted
appearance." Based on this description, the swirl we observed on the nest must have been a
The nest was at first located from near the north side of the falls by using 8 x 40 Zeiss
binoculars. Careful observations of the swift continued using a Bausch and Lomb Discoverer
spotting scope with a zoom lens (15 x 60). We continued our surveillance of the nest until 9:00
A.M.. During this time the bird never left the nest, but shifted positions a couple of times. It
preened its feathers briefly and stretched its wings one at a time. During the early part of our
observation it appeared to be searching the sky. Later it just sat on the nest in a horizontal
position without moving at all. The assumption is that it was a juvenile bird waiting for the
The nest was located on a recessed ledge in the middle part of the falls. Chantler and
Driessens mention that "six of seven recorded British Columbian, nests were found on shallow
ledges under overhanging moss. The nests are pads of moss bound together with mud". Since it
was late in the summer of a very dry water year there was just a trickle of water flowing over the
nest site. The nest was composed of moss which appeared dry from our vantage point. The nest
site was barely visible in the sunlight for a short period of time, then was entirely shaded for the
remainder of our visit.
It has come to our attention that this is the first confirmed nesting record since 1961 when
O.A. Knorr conducted Black Swift surveys in Utah and found two nests with young in the vicinity
of Aspen Grove on Mount Timpanogos. On August 23, 2001 a search of the four waterfalls in
the area described by Knorr was unsuccessful in locating any nests or swifts. We could not locate
any previous record of Black Swifts nesting at Stewart Falls although they have been observed
foraging in this area many times by other birders.
Knorr listed five requirements that characterized nesting colonies in Colorado where he
conducted his initial studies. (1) Presence of water: Water was present at every nesting site
without exception and varied from a trickle to a torrent. (2) High Relief: The nest site must "have
a commanding position above the surrounding terrain so that birds flying out from the nests on a
horizontal course find themselves automatically at feeding altitudes above the adjacent valley."
(3) Inaccessibility: "No nest was ever found which was accessible to anything without wings." (4)
Darkness: Knorr "never found an occupied nest upon which the sun shone." (5) Unobstructed
flyways: "The air immediately in front of a nesting site must be free of obstructions.
Except for the short time the nest was in the early morning sunlight the nest site at Stewart"
Falls met all five of these requirements listed by Knorr.
On August 25 this site was revisited.. The nest was unoccupied
Bent, Arthur Cleveland, 1940. Life Histories of North American Cuckoos,
Hummingbirds and Their Allies. United States National Museum, Bulletin 176. Smithsonian
Institution, Washington, D.C.
Chantler, Phil and Gerald Driessens, 1995. Pica Press, The Banks. Mountfield, Nr.,
Robertsbridge, East Sussex, TN32 5JY, England.
Knorr, O.A., 1962. "Black Swift breeds in Utah." Condor 64:79