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Cliff Swallow vs Barn Swallow

cliff swallow vs barn swallow

Of all the swallows, the cliff and the barn swallows are often mistaken for each other due to a lot of similarities. From the way the birds build their nests to their physical features, they share so many things in common.

But, if you take a closer look, these birds also come with a lot of uniqueness from each other. This article is made to differentiate between cliff swallow vs barn swallow so that a bird watcher can quickly identify one of them in the backyard.

FeaturesCliff SwallowBarn Swallow
PlumagePale Buff Colored-Lower Back and RumpDark Blue Color from Head-to-Tail
ForeheadBrown or WhiteReddish Brown
HabitatVertical Cliff FacesOpen Areas

Physical Features

From afar, these two swallows look similar, but upon a closer look, you can see the difference in their physical features. Please see below:


The first feature that tells the difference between the cliff swallow and the barn swallow is the color of their plumage. As for the cliff swallow, you will see the pale, buff colored-lower back. Meanwhile, the rump also has a similar color, while a pale collar is also evident at the back of the neck.

On the other hand, you will see a totally different color with the barn swallow’s plumage. The back part of this bird is colored dark blue. The dark blue color dominates from the head to the tail.

Shape of the Tail

The shape of the tail can also be used to differentiate between cliff swallows and barn swallows. The difference in the tail will also give a different look to the two birds when they are flying, or they are in flight.

As for the barn swallows, it comes with a long forked tail that comes with some white spots on the surface. On the other hand, the cliff swallow’s tail is very short compared to the tail of the barn swallow.

Bird’s Forehead

You can also tell the difference between cliff swallow and barn swallow by the color of their forehead. From a distance, you might find the two birds look similar but looking at their forehead will give you the difference between the two birds.

As far as the cliff swallow is concerned, the color of their forehead is either brownish or white in color. On the other hand, the barn swallow has a different color. Its forehead is dominated by reddish-brown color.

Size and Shape

You can also tell the difference between the two birds if you check their size and their shape. As for cliff swallows, they are very compact sized with round wings while having a small head. The size of these birds is relatively smaller to purple larger but is larger than bank swallow.

On the other hand, the barn swallow looks cone-shaped when they are perched. They also have flattened heads and pointed wings. The size of this bird is smaller compared to the bluebirds but is larger than a tree swallow.

To differentiate the size of the two birds, please check the table below:

FeaturesCliff SwallowBarn Swallow
Length13 cm15 – 19 cm
Weight19 – 34 grams17 – 20 grams
Wingspan28 – 30 cm29 – 32 cm

comparing cliff swallow and barn swallow


These two bird species also differ in the way they built their habitat. The cliff swallows usually built their nests on vertical cliff faces. But with the recent changes and expansion of several road infrastructures, these birds are starting to adapt by building bridges. culverts, and overpass.

On the other hand, the barn swallows like to build their nests in the open. Places like parks, open fields, and roads near the edges of ponds, meadows, marshes, and coastal waters. The nest of barn swallows can be spotted in these places.


These two birds can also be identified by the type of bird foods they eat. The barn swallows like to feed on insects such as flies, wasps, bees, ants, and bugs. These birds also eat grasshoppers, moths, and other insects.

For the cliff swallows, they also like flying insects but specifically beetles. They also want to feast on bugs, ants, bees, flies, and wasps. They also like to feed on lacewings, grasshoppers, and other insects.


You can also tell the difference between cliff swallows and barn swallows by the way they migrate during the breeding season. As for the cliff swallows will be spending several months migrating to Mexico, Central America, and North America to reach their breeding grounds.

On the other hand, the barn swallows will be spending the winter in Central and North America. Their fall migration starts from June until January, while they will be spending their winter in Southern California until May in Alaska.


When comparing cliff swallow vs barn swallow can be difficult with all their similarities. But if you take a closer look, there are many differences in the physical features, habitat, food, and migration patterns.

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