Cliff Swallow vs Barn Swallow: The Differences and Similarities

cliff swallow vs barn swallow

There are two types of swallows that are commonly seen in North America: the cliff swallow vs barn swallow. Both of these birds are included in the Hirundinidae family, which contains all species of swallows and martins.

These birds are known for their aerial acrobatics and mud nests. While they may look similar at first glance, there are some key differences between cliff swallows and barn swallows that will be explored in this blog post.

Check out the differences:

  • The most obvious difference between these two types of swallows is their size. Cliff swallows are larger than barn swallows, with a wingspan that can reach up to 16 inches. Barn swallows have a more modest wingspan of 12-14 inches.
  • Another difference is that cliff swallows have square tails while barn swallow tails have a forked shape.
  • Additionally, cliff swallow throats and chests are covered in a light-colored V-shaped mark. This mark is not present on barn swallows. The color of Cliff swallows is more uniform than that of barn swallows; they are primarily dark gray with a light-colored belly. Barn swallows, on the other hand, have rusty red foreheads and throats with blue-black upperparts and white underparts.
  • Cliff Swallows also have longer legs than barn swallows which allows them to perch more easily on rocks and cliffs (thus their name!).
  • One final way to tell these two types of birds apart is by their call. Cliff swallow calls are described as “buzzy,” while barn swallow calls have been likened to “twittering.”

The Similarities

Despite their many differences, there are also some similarities between these two types of birds.

  • For example, both cliff swallows and barn swallows build their nests out of mud pellets which they collect while in flight.
  • They use saliva to bind the pellets together to form a cup-shaped nest. It takes both male and female birds approximately 10 days to build a single nest; however, multiple nests may be built over the course of a season as needed.
  • Both cliff swallows and barn swallows eat insects that they catch mid-flight using their long bills and protruding tongues.
  • In addition to being skilled flyers and wonderful architects, these birds are also known for their synchronized flying abilities.
  • Groups of a cliff or barn swallows will often fly in formation while performing complicated aerial maneuvers.

The reasons for their popularity

  • These birds are so popular because they are such useful parents. Both species help to control insect populations, and the Barn Swallow is even known to eat snakes and mice.
  • In addition, these birds are very entertaining to watch as they fly acrobatically after their prey.

As a result, it is no wonder that the Cliff Swallow and Barn Swallow are two of the most popular birds in North America.


Whether you’re looking at a cliff swallow or a barn swallow, you’re sure to be impressed by the beauty and skill of these amazing birds! Be sure to take some time to appreciate these creatures the next time you see them flying overhead.