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Cypseloides lemosi

White-chested Swift

  • Order: Apodiformes
  • Family: Apodidae
  • Monotypic

Authors: Schulenberg, Thomas S



Cypseloides are medium sized swifts with blackish plumage, concolor upperparts, relatively broad wings, and a square or only slightly forked tail. White-chested Swift is a small to medium sized Cypseloides with a square or slightly forked tail. The plumage is sooty black, with a broad white band, broader in the center, across the breast. Juveniles are sooty with little or no white on the breast.

Similar Species

Identification of swifts often is very difficult: they are seen only in rapid flight, often at a distance and under poor lighting conditions, and all species are primarily black or gray.

Adult White-chested Swift is superficially similar to White-collared Swift (Streptoprocne zonaris), but White-collared Swift is much larger, its white collar is more forward on the breast and completely encircles the head, has proportionately longer and more slender wings, and its tail is more deeply notched. The breast patch of White-chested Swift can appear as a collar under some viewing conditions (Howell 2011), however, and the relative size of a single swift, or of members of a flock composed of only a single species, can be difficult to gauge. Under many field conditions, however, identification of adult White-chested Swift is fairly straightforward.

Identification of immature White-chested Swifts, which lack the white breast band but instead are more or less scaled below, can more problematic. White-chested Swift in this plumage can be very similar to Black Swift (Cypseloides niger), White-chinned Swift (Cypseloides cryptus), and to Spot-fronted Swift (Cypseloides cherriei).


Calls of White-chested Swift are similar to those of Black Swift (Cypseloides niger) (Howell 2002, 2011), and are described as "single, steady-paced chipping calls, chip, chip, chip given by lone birds and slightly sweeter or mellower, faster-paced series, e.g, chih-chih-chih-chih-chih given in chasing interactions" (Howell (2002), and as "a rapid, piping pi'pi'pi-pee pee and single tip and pee notes" (Lane, in Schulenberg et al. 2010). Note that in this recording, from northern Peru, the vocalizations of White-chested Swift are the "clearer, puttering calls" and that the "scratchier" vocalizations are of another species, Chestnut-collared Swift (Streptoprocne rutila) and/or White-chinned Swift (Cypseloides cryptus).

Nonvocal Sounds

None reported.

Detailed Description (appearance)

The following description is based on Eisenmann and Lehmann (1962):

Adult: Upperparts sooty blackish. Crown and back faintly glossed with greenish, wings and tail bluish. Feathers of forecrown with narrow, indistinct, pale brownish gray margins. Preocular area black, extending lores to just above and below the anterior half of the eye. Underparts slightly paler and slightly more brownisn, especially on the chin, throat, and dark portions of the breast. Large white patch covering most of the breast, widest in the center of the breast and narrower to either side. 

Sexes similar, but the tail of the male is more distinctly notched.

Immature: White breast band lacking, or with only a few white feathers on the breast. Broad white tips to the feathers of the lower breast, belly, and undertail coverts, and narrower (but conspicuous) white tipping on the wing coverts. Similar to female of Black Swift (Cypseloides niger), but "more slaty (less brownish), much darker on the crown and the sides of head, and glossier on the back and crown, with much less whitish edging on the head (restricted to the fore crown) and lores" (Eisenmann and Lehmann 1962: 4-5).

Bare Parts

Iris: black

Bill: black

Tarsi and toes: black

Bare parts color data from Eisenmann and Lehmann (1962)


Total length: 14 cm (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001b), 15 cm (Hilty and Brown 1986)

Linear measurements (from Eisenmann and Lehmann 1962):

male (n = 3):

wing length, mean 158.3 mm (range 156-160 mm)

tail length, mean 57.3 mm (range 54-62 mm)

culmen length, mean 5.7 mm (range 5.5-6 mm)

tarsus length, mean 11.7 mm (range 11.5-12 mm)

female (n = 4):

wing length, mean 156 mm (range 155-157 mm)

tail length, mean 50.2 mm (range 47-5 mm)

culmen length, mean 5.6 mm (range 5.5-6 mm)

tarsus length, mean 11.6 mm (range 11-12 mm)

Mass: 27.4 g. 28.8 g (n = 2, females; Eisenmann and Lehmann 1962)


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Geographic Variation



Described as Cypseloides lemosi by Eisenmann and Lehmann (1962); type locality Santander, Cauca, Colombia, 1100 m.

This species was named in honor of Dr. Antonio José Lemos-Guzmán, a Governor of the Departamento del Cauca and Rector of the Universidad del Cauca; the Museo de Historia Natural at the Universidad del Cauca was founded during his tenure.

There is no phylogenetic survey of Cypseloides. Cypseloides lemosi is believed to be most closely related to Cypseloides niger (Black Swift) (Eisenmann and Lehmann 1962), or to form a subspecies with Cypseloides niger, Cypseloides rothschildi (Rothschild's Swift), and Cypseloides fumigatus (Sooty Swift) (Chantler 1999).

Recommended Citation

Schulenberg, Thomas S. 2012. White-chested Swift (Cypseloides lemosi), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: