White-throated Swift (Aeronautes saxatalis)

The fast flying White-throated Swift (Aeronautes saxatalis)
The fast flying White-throated Swift (Aeronautes saxatalis)

The White-throated Swift is a medium-sized bird known for its swift and agile flight, sleek body, and distinctive white throat patch. Adults typically measure around 6.5 inches (16.5 cm) in length, with a wingspan of approximately 15 inches (38 cm). They have a dark, glossy plumage that aids in camouflage against the rocky cliffs where they often dwell. Their wings are long and slender, adapted for rapid and maneuverable flight, while their short bills are perfect for catching insects mid-air. Juveniles resemble adults but may have less contrast in their plumage.

Habitat and Distribution

White-throated Swifts are primarily found in the western regions of North America, ranging from the southwestern United States through parts of Mexico. They inhabit rugged, rocky terrain such as canyons, cliffs, and gorges, where they nest in crevices and on ledges. These birds are particularly well adapted to arid environments and are often seen in desert landscapes, although they may also occur in mountainous regions.

Behavior and Ecology

White-throated Swifts are highly adapted for aerial foraging, feeding primarily on flying insects such as flies, beetles, and mosquitoes. They are renowned for their impressive flight abilities, performing intricate maneuvers as they hunt on the wing. Their swift and agile movements enable them to navigate through narrow passages and steep cliffs with ease. Breeding pairs typically construct cup-shaped nests made of twigs, feathers, and saliva, which they attach to vertical rock faces. During the breeding season, males perform aerial courtship displays to attract females.

Conservation Status

The White-throated Swift is not currently considered globally threatened, although local populations may be impacted by habitat loss and disturbance. Conservation efforts are focused on protecting nesting sites, particularly in areas where cliffs are subject to human development or recreational activities. As an insectivorous species, White-throated Swifts may also be vulnerable to pesticide use, which can reduce their prey availability.

The White-throated Swift is a fascinating species well adapted to its rugged habitat and aerial lifestyle. Its graceful flight and striking appearance make it a favorite among birdwatchers and enthusiasts. By understanding the ecology and behavior of the White-throated Swift, we can better appreciate the importance of conserving its unique habitat and ensuring the long-term survival of this remarkable bird.

Field Guide Description

“Black above, black and white below, with long, forked tail. Distinguished from Violet-green swallow, (page 322) by longer narrower wings, bicolored underparts. In poor light, may be mistaken for Black Swift but smaller, with faster wingbeats. Common in mountains, canyons, cliffs. Nests in crevices.”

Field Guide to the Birds of North America, Third Edition, pg 262




Spreading Phlox ( Phlox diffusa )

Spreading Phlox ( Phlox diffusa ) is a perennial shrub with small needle like leaves.  This is a small white flowering plant prefers alpine, sub-alpine environments and rocky or sandy soil.  This is a low growing plant which is commonly only two to eight inches tall which probably offers survival advantages when confronted with the harsh landscapes of sub-alpine and alpine environments, in which it thrives.

Photographed in the White Moundtains, Phlox diffusa is a small white flowering plant which prefers alpine and sub-alpine environments.
Photographed in the White Moundtains in California Phlox diffusa is a small white flowering plant which prefers alpine and sub-alpine environments. Photograph by James L Rathbun

Spreading Phlox is commonly found and adapted high in the mountains and distributed throughout in the western United States and Canada. This plant employs a tap route, which is ideally suited to capture water deeper under ground and also offers an anchor to help the plant cling to the mountain in high wind conditions. The plant is short, and when in full bloom, the flowers may completely obscure the green needle like leaves from view.

The five petaled flowers range in color from a clean, magnificent white to calming understated lavender or pink color.  

The blooms are typically visible from May to August and a welcome sight to those who hike at elevation.