Black Swift Cypseloides niger


Justification of Red List category
The species is undergoing a rapid decline throughout North America. The reasons for the decline are uncertain, but possibly due to climate change and pesticide use. The rate of decline qualifies the species as Vulnerable; however, any increase in the rate may quickly result in the species warranting a status change.

Population justification
This species is not well known, however the population size has recently been estimated at 170,000 mature individuals (Partners in Flight 2019).

Trend justification
This species has undergone a drastic decrease over the past decades in North America. Long-term data from Partners in Flight Landbird Conservation Plan suggest the species’s population decreased by 94% between 1970 and 2014 (Rosenberg et al. 2016). Declines are currently estimated at ~5.7% per year, which equates to a 48% decline across three generation lengths (~11 years) (Partners in Flight 2019) and similarly significant declines are extremely likely to continue into the future. Such declining trends were similarly concluded by the North American Breeding Bird Survey (Sauer et al. 2017).

Distribution and population

The species is known to breed in western North America, from southern Alaska and western Canada into south-west U.S.A. and central Mexico, and south through Central America to Costa Rica and Panama. These populations are considered probably migratory, but their non-breeding ranges are not certain, although western Brazil and Colombia have been identified as potential areas (Beason et al. 2012). The species also occurs in the West Indies, with subspecies C. n. niger occurring from Cuba east to Trinidad, and this subspecies may only be a partial migrant (Chantler et al. 2018).


The species uses a variety of habitats throughout its range. It prefers montane areas where it occupies evergreen forests, forest edges or secondary forest, but also a variety of open habitats. It nests on ledges or shallow caves in steep rock faces and canyons, often in proximity to waterfalls or in sea caves (Lowther and Collins 2002, Levad 2010). It occurs mainly at 1,000-3,000 m, but is occasionally seen from close to sea-level to 3,700 m.


The threats facing this species are currently uncertain. Because of its preference for higher altitudes, it has been suggested that climate change could be a key threat (Rosenberg et al. 2016). Additionally, the species’s insectivorous feeding habits may make it vulnerable to pesticide use. Further work to identify its non-breeding key habitat requirements and full range could also identify whether there are any important threats there that are impacting the species, or potentially driving these declines.

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
Protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the U.S.A., the Migratory Bird Convention Act in Canada, and the Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds and Game Mammals in Mexico.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Investigate the species's full range and its habitat requirements in the non-breeding range. Assess the threats it is facing and the causes for the decline. Carry out surveys to determine the status and trend of the population outside of Canada and the U.S.A. Limit the use of pesticides within its range.


c.18 cm. Large swift with slightly notched tail, long pointed wings and stocky body; plumage entirely black with white areas on the sides of the forehead. Voice Calls a series of chip or tip notes, sometimes continuing in a fast rattle and terminating in short or rather squeaky notes. Similar spp Larger than all other North American swifts and almost entirely black color; however they can be easily confused with swifts in South or Central America, so that sight records there might be questionable.


Text account compilers
Hermes, C., Everest, J.

Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J. & Westrip, J.R.S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Cypseloides niger. Downloaded from on 26/09/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 26/09/2023.