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#ABArare – Common Swift – California

There are rarities that are somewhat expected, even when they’re a first for the ABA Area (e.g., Amazon Kingfisher in Texas, Loggerhead Kingbird in Florida). Then there are those that weren’t on the radar. Today we have one of the latter. While not quite at the level of the Rufous-necked Wood-Rail, the Common Swift found by Oscar Johnson in Riverside County, California, on Oct 30 is high on the list of shocking finds.

Common Swift. Photo by Oscar Johnson.

Common Swift. Photo by Oscar Johnson.

Johnson, along with Colleen Buckley and Michael Suttner, observed the swift for three minutes near Desert Center in southern California. It was seen on private property, so the exact location has not been revealed. The bird was not seen again over the next five hours after the initial sighting, so even if the location was open to the public, it would probably not be twitchable (definition: likely to stay and be seen by others).

View of the upperparts. Photo by Oscar Johnson.

View of the upperparts. Photo by Oscar Johnson.

Common Swift. Photo by Oscar Johnson.

Common Swift. Photo by Oscar Johnson.


I should mention that it’s probably best to refer to this bird as an “apparent” Common Swift for now. Swift identification is difficult, and I’m not sure if other species, particularly Pallid Swift, have been conclusively eliminated as possibilities yet. (Feel free to comment on the identification in the comments.) There are three previous records of Common Swift from the ABA Area: two from St. Paul Island, Alaska (1950 and 1986) and one from St. Pierre and Miquelon (1986). There are also five accepted records of swifts accepted only to the genus Apus, which are thought to likely be Common Swifts: Massachusetts (1995, 1996, and 2005), Pennsylvania (1996), and St. Pierre and Miquelon (2006). If the current report is accepted as a Common Swift, it will be the first definite record for the Lower 48. As you can see, the previous records have all come from Alaska and the northeastern part of the ABA Area, so having one show up in southern California was certainly unexpected.

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John Puschock

John Puschock

John Puschock reports ABA rare bird alerts and manages #ABArare for the American Birding Association. John is a frequent participant in rare bird forums around the web and has knack for gathering details necessary to relocate birds. He has been a birder since 1984 and now leads tours for Bird Treks, as well as for his own company Zugunruhe Birding Tours. He has led tours to locations across North America, from Newfoundland to New Mexico and from Costa Rica to Alaska. He specializes in leading tours to Adak in the Aleutian Islands.
  • Ken Schneider

    I’d like to say something intelligent about this sighting, but all I can think of is…. WOW! What an amazing observation and it’s great that Oscar was prepared and able to get so many photos.

  • Kurt Radamaker

    Awesome, that is an exciting find

  • Tom Tarrant

    Great find but is it definitely a Common Swift?, I’m fairly familiar with this species as I grew up in the UK but this bird looks to have a white forehead….rather similar to White-throated Needletail from East Asia. Interested to hear where the ID goes…..

    • I’m not terribly familiar with either bird, but needletail should have white on the undertail and a pale saddle on the back, should it not?

      • Oscar Johnson

        Yes, I believe that all of the needletails should have more white on the rump and/or vent. Same goes for the Pacific/Fork-tailed Swift complex. I would be very interested to hear if anyone has experience with identifying Pallid Swift, pekinensis Common Swift, or any of the African dark-rumped Apus swifts. Thanks!!

  • Joe Tobias

    I don’t think there is much doubt that this is a Common Swift, race pekinensis. Incredible sighting, and very impressive to document it so well in 3 mins!

  • cristina Emerson

    So nice to see this ABA rare bird.

  • Marijke Boer

    A new paper has just come out in Cotinga regarding a common swift seen off Suriname (South America). Hope you will enjoy reading the paper,

    De Boer MN, Saulino JT, Williams AW (2014). First documented record of Common Swift Apus apus for Suriname and the South American continent. Cotinga 36 (2014): 107–109

    Good luck with your work!

    Marijke N. de Boer

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