Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Cave Swallow - Petrochelidon fulva
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General Comments Hardly any bird has expanded its breeding range in the United States in recent years as has the Cave Swallow. A few decades ago, one had to go to a select few culverts in south Texas to be sure to find them. However, they are now nesting over much of the majority of that state, and migrants often end up heading eastward to the Atlantic coast, rather than southward. The first state record did not come until 1987; but since 2000, they have been routinely recorded along and near the North Carolina coast, always in late fall or early winter, though few if any are able to survive the entire winter. Because this flight occurs long after Cliff Swallows are gone, one never has a chance for direct comparison of the two; however, this makes mis-identifications unlikely. Cave Swallows are often seen in flocks of Tree Swallows, but at times are found by themselves - most are seen close to tidal water, such as flying down beaches or sounds in "southbound" migration, but some are seen around catfish ponds and other lakes and impoundments near the coast.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Fall transient, and straggler into early winter, essentially along the coast; greatly increasing in numbers and records through about 2012; however, numbers have leveled off or declined since about 2015. Currently, rare to (at times) uncommon along the coast, as well as in Tidewater. No farther inland records. Mainly very late Oct or early Nov to mid-Dec, and sparingly into early Jan. Other records are one near Sneads Ferry (Onslow), 5 Feb 1995; two at Carolina Beach SP (New Hanover) on 21 Mar 2023; and one at Pea Island NWR on 19 May 1995, seen by excellent observers. High counts: 85, Tidewater Research Station in Roper (Washington), 17 Nov 2007 [Chat 72:34-35 link]; 33, North Topsail Beach (Onslow), 8 Nov 2012 [Chat 77:30 link].
Piedmont Accidental to casual, with three records: a single bird seen at Troutman (Iredell) on 20 Dec 1999 [Chat 64:106 link], [Chat 65:85 link]; a single bird over the UNC soccer fields in Chapel Hill, 1 Nov 2011 [Chat 76:33 link]; and a juvenile photographed at Cane Creek Reservoir (Orange), 2 Dec 2015 [Chat 80:90 link].
Mountains Accidental, if correctly identified. One was photographed and observed by several birders at Ecusta Pond (Transylvania) on 26 Mar 2020 [Chat 84:99 link]. This is a remarkable record if accepted (not yet reviewed by the NC BRC), as not only was there no previous mountain record, but no previous spring record for the state. Another individual was reported at this same pond, this time on 10 Mar 2022 [Chat 86:85 link]; this also is expected to be reviewed by the NC BRC.
Finding Tips The best bet may be to search the catfish ponds near the Tidewater Research Station, and the adjacent ponds on the east side of Creswell, both in Washington, in the latter half of Nov or early Dec. Otherwise, check the water treatment ponds on the mainland at Ocean Isle Beach. At times, they can be seen flying along the beaches and sounds along the southernmost coast.
Attribution LeGrand[2024-02-10], LeGrand[2023-08-10], LeGrand[2023-03-26]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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