How to tell the difference between swifts, swallows and planes

differentiate, swifts, planes and swallows

Swifts, swallows and planes They are 3 very common birds in our cities and towns and that despite living with them, people confuse them and are not able to identify them.

We are going to leave a complete manual with all the tricks and aspects in which we have to look for a good recognition.

LSwifts are much easier to identifyBetween airplanes and swallows we will have to look a little more but you will see how it is very simple.

Swallows and planes are Hurindinidae of the family Hirundinidae while swifts are family aphid Apodidae which literally means without feet.

If you want to know more about each one we have the individual files. Every time with more data, photos and curiosities

Subscribe to our mailing list

We can differentiate them in 3 different ways.

  1. Visually
  2. By the nests
  3. By singing

Visually (silhouette and flight)

Here we could differentiate two more factors: the morphology of the bird and the form of value.

Morphology and silhouette

Looking at the images it seems that it is very simple, but when they are in flight it is not so simple, especially between airplanes and swallows. Swifts are easy to identify.

The swift:

  • It is the largest by far has a wingspan of 40 - 44cm
  • it's all dark (we talk about the common sale)
  • has scythe-shaped wings

The common plane:

  • pure white rump
  • the tail does not have long forked feathers

The swallow:

  • long pointed wings
  • and especially the forked tail with elongated and wire-fine rectrices

Way of flying

We can distinguish the 3 birds by their way of flying. But of all the ways I mention I think this is the most difficult for the beginner. It is true that once we identified the 3 species well. The way of flying allows us to distinguish between Airplanes and swallows, I do not put the swifts in the same bag because of the three they are the most easily differentiated. We are always going to have doubts between whether we have seen a plane or a swallow.


Frantic flapping, alternating wings and then great glides at high speeds. Watching a swift fly is like watching a speed freak fly.


Long planes with straight wings and slow speed in curves


Fast and powerful flight with clipped wingbeats, with glides much shorter than the plane. It's like jumping in the air, fluttering in mid-air

By the nests

swift nests in the holes in the castle wall

Swifts nest in holes in walls, walls, rocks, etc. So if you see one of these mud formations under a balcony you can be sure it is NOT a swift.

swallow's nest

Swallows do make their nest out of clay, it is distinguished by the shape of a cup, it is open at the top

Whereas planes make an oval shaped mud nest with a single entry and exit hole

By singing

Many times we do not see these birds pass but we hear them enjoying themselves in the air. Each one has its characteristic song and by it we can distinguish what species it is.

The most unique is that of the swifts, which also as they fly in a group at full speed is a very striking sound.

Song of the Swift

Raucous, monotonous and resonant screams

Carlos W., XC466673. Accessible at

Song of the swallow

Cheerful and penetrating emits a vi»That repeats 2 times. They announce the presence of cats with a siflitt and birds of prey with flitt-flitt

Karl-Birger Strann, XC443771. Accessible at

Song of the common plane

Jens Kirkeby, XC381988. Accessible at

Other differences

Other differences in these birds that we usually put in the same group. You will see that the swifts are made of another paste


A curiosity that catches my attention is that the three species migrate in different ranges of height.

  • Swifts at 2000 me high

Leave a comment