Apodidae – Swifts

White-rumped Swift Apus caffer ©Trevor Hardaker Website

Common SwiftApus apus

Named as Hirundo Apus by Linnaeus in 1758, Common Swift has two subspecies: A. a. apus (W Palearctic north of Sahara east to Lake Baikal, south-east towards Iran (recent colonist of Gran Canaria and probably Teneriefe) and A. a. pekinensis (Iran east through Himalayas to Mongolia and N China). Both races winter primarily south of Equator in Africa.

Over vast breeding range occurs in a wide range of habitats from arid steppe, desert, temperate, Mediterranean zones and boreal zone and from sea-level to high altitude (recorded migrating at 5700m in Himalayas). Similarly occurs over all sub-Saharan habitats in the winter. Abundance in Britian apparently correlates with climate; commonest in relatively warm and dry south and east, becoming scarcer to the north and west where insect abundance is reduced in the comparatively wetter conditions. In Israel less abundant in driest areas.

In spring present in south of breeding range from mid Mar, arriving later further north, where migration occurs into Jun. Leaves Europe from late Jul being present on African wintering grounds from Sept. Broadfront autumn migration from Europe with S SW bearing, whilst return migration is by a more easterly route. Race pekinensis has departed South Africa by early Mar, with nominate birds leaving somewhat earlier, late Jan – early Feb. Small numbers winter north of Sahara, for instance on Cape Verde Is, Egypt, Israel and the Arab Gulf states.

Within huge range the onset of breeding season varies widely, from Mar in Israel, mid May in Britain and late May in Scandinavia. Mainly colonial, with separate nests typically over 1m apart. Male prospects and choses nest site in order to attract female, who is initially greeted with hostile display, though allopreening occurs when she submits by lifting head to expose throat patch. Nests mainly in buildings, but also in tree hollows and rock crevices in remote areas. Half-cupped nest measures 125 x 110 mm with an internal diameter of 45 mm; consists of small pieces of vegetable matter and feathers, agglutinated with saliva,. Clutch 1-4 eggs, measuring: 25 x 16 mm; parents share nesting duties equally, with incubation initiated by laying of last egg, with a period of 19.5 days.

Continuous brooding in first week, becomes discontinuous from second with young unattended during inclement weather. Weather causes feeding rate variation; two young share foodball until they are large enough to swallow one whole around day 14, with an average 10 foodballs daily. Young becomes restless from 2-3 weeks, with wing exercises and allopreening; self initiated fledging after sunset or prior to 08.00 am; average fledging period 42.5 days, with wide range of 37-56 days due to weather conditions. Mating on wing and at nest. Average breeding success between 58-65% with on average between 1.3-1.7 young fledging per breeding effort.

A common species, with 1997 population estimates in Europe between 3,973,943-4,872,619, Russia 1,00,000-5,000,000 and Turkey 50,000-500,000. Apparent decline in some areas of Europe, at least, as shown by reported recent declines in 12 European countries. In Britain and Ireland censuses between 1968-1972 revealed an estimated 100,000 pairs and between then and 1989-1990 there is apparently no evidence of siginificant population change.

There are, according to the IOC, 105 Swifts, Swiftlets, Spinetails, Needletails and Palm-Swifts in the family Apodidae; they are:

Spot-fronted Swift Cypseloides cherriei
White-chinned Swift Cypseloides cryptus
White-fronted Swift Cypseloides storeri
Sooty Swift Cypseloides fumigatus
Rothschild’s Swift Cypseloides rothschildi
American Black Swift Cypseloides niger
White-chested Swift Cypseloides lemosi
Great Dusky Swift Cypseloides senex

Tepui Swift Streptoprocne phelpsi
Chestnut-collared Swift Streptoprocne rutila
White-collared Swift Streptoprocne zonaris
Biscutate Swift Streptoprocne biscutata
White-naped Swift Streptoprocne semicollaris

Giant Swiftlet Hydrochous gigas

Glossy Swiftlet Collocalia esculenta
Cave Swiftlet Collocalia linchi
Bornean Swiftlet Collocalia dodgei
Pygmy Swiftlet Collocalia troglodytes

Seychelles Swiftlet Aerodramus elaphrus
Mascarene Swiftlet Aerodramus francicus
Indian Swiftlet Aerodramus unicolor
Philippine Swiftlet Aerodramus mearnsi
Halmahera Swiftlet Aerodramus infuscatus
Sulawesi Swiftlet Aerodramus sororum
Seram Swiftlet Aerodramus ceramensis
Mountain Swiftlet Aerodramus hirundinaceus
White-rumped Swiftlet Aerodramus spodiopygius
Australian Swiftlet Aerodramus terraereginae
Himalayan Swiftlet Aerodramus brevirostris
Volcano Swiftlet Aerodramus vulcanorum
Whitehead’s Swiftlet Aerodramus whiteheadi
Bare-legged Swiftlet Aerodramus nuditarsus
Mayr’s Swiftlet Aerodramus orientalis
Mossy-nest Swiftlet Aerodramus salangana
Uniform Swiftlet Aerodramus vanikorensis
Ameline Swiftlet Aerodramus amelis
Palau Swiftlet Aerodramus pelewensis
Mariana Swiftlet Aerodramus bartschi
Island Swiftlet Aerodramus inquietus
Tahiti Swiftlet Aerodramus leucophaeus
Atiu Swiftlet Aerodramus sawtelli
Marquesan Swiftlet Aerodramus ocistus
Black-nest Swiftlet Aerodramus maximus
Edible-nest Swiftlet Aerodramus fuciphagus
Germain’s Swiftlet Aerodramus germani
Three-toed Swiftlet Aerodramus papuensis

Scarce Swift Schoutedenapus myoptilus
Schouteden’s Swift Schoutedenapus schoutedeni

Philippine Spine-tailed Swift Mearnsia picina
Papuan Spine-tailed Swift Mearnsia novaeguineae

Madagascan Spinetail Zoonavena grandidieri
Sao Tome Spinetail Zoonavena thomensis
White-rumped Spinetail Zoonavena sylvatica

Mottled Spinetail Telacanthura ussheri
Black Spinetail Telacanthura melanopygia

Silver-rumped Spinetail Rhaphidura leucopygialis
Sabine’s Spinetail Rhaphidura sabini

Cassin’s Spinetail Neafrapus cassini
Böhm’s Spinetail Neafrapus boehmi

White-throated Needletail Hirundapus caudacutus
Silver-backed Needletail Hirundapus cochinchinensis
Brown-backed Needletail Hirundapus giganteus
Purple Needletail Hirundapus celebensis

Lesser Antillean Swift Chaetura martinica
Band-rumped Swift Chaetura spinicaudus
Costa Rican Swift Chaetura fumosa
Pale-rumped Swift Chaetura egregia
Grey-rumped Swift Chaetura cinereiventris
Vaux’s Swift Chaetura vauxi
Sick’s Swift Chaetura meridionalis
Chimney Swift Chaetura pelagica
Chapman’s Swift Chaetura chapmani
Mato Grosso Swift Chaetura viridipennis
Short-tailed Swift Chaetura brachyura

White-throated Swift Aeronautes saxatalis
White-tipped Swift Aeronautes montivagus
Andean Swift Aeronautes andecolus

Antillean Palm Swift Tachornis phoenicobia
Pygmy Palm Swift Tachornis furcata
Neotropical Palm Swift Tachornis squamata

Great Swallow-tailed Swift Panyptila sanctihieronymi
Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift Panyptila cayennensis

African Palm Swift Cypsiurus parvus
Asian Palm Swift Cypsiurus balasiensis

Alpine Swift Tachymarptis melba
Mottled Swift Tachymarptis aequatorialis

Cape Verde Swift Apus alexandri
Common Swift Apus apus
Plain Swift Apus unicolor
Nyanza Swift Apus niansae
Pallid Swift Apus pallidus
African Black Swift Apus barbatus
Fernando Po Swift Apus sladeniae
Forbes-Watson’s Swift Apus berliozi
Bradfield’s Swift Apus bradfieldi
Pacific Swift Apus pacificus
Salim Ali’s Swift Apus salimalii
Blyth’s Swift Apus leuconyx
Cook’s Swift Apus cooki
Dark-rumped Swift Apus acuticauda
Little Swift Apus affinis
House Swift Apus nipalensis
Horus Swift Apus horus
White-rumped Swift Apus caffer
Bates’s Swift Apus batesi

  • Phil Chantler

    | p_chantler@yahoo.com

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 105

Useful Reading
  • CD of Swift Calls

    CD of Swift Calls - used to attract swifts to artificial nest box sites for ?19.90c. http://www.ample.de/ ISBN: 3935329407 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Swiftlets of Borneo - Builders of Edible Nests

    Lim Chan Choon & Earl of Cranbrook, 2002, Natural History Publications (Borneo) ISBN: 983812060X Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Swifts - A Guide to the Swifts and Treeswifts of the World

    Phil Chantler & Gerald Driessens - Pica 1995 ISBN: 1873403836 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • Chimney Swift Chaetura pelagica Conservation Project

    Nestcam, reports etc.
  • Swift Conservation

    Our aim is to protect and encourage Swifts, truly amazing birds that live with us for just three months every Summer. We provide advice to homeowners, construction professionals, educators, and government. Find out why Swifts matter, what they give us, and how you can get a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction helping them survive and thrive
Forums & Mailing Lists
  • Swallows-Martins-Swifts-Worldwide

    Mailing List
    Aimed at specialist and amateur alike, you may record observations, describe interesting behavioral features, ask questions, advise readers about publications, and submit photographs and texts via Files or Photos. Articles and messages in languages other than English may be posted, provided a summary in English is also attached.
  • martinets-hirondelles

    Mailing List
    Martinets-hirondelles est une liste de diffusion ornithologique exclusivement consacrée aux Apodidae et Hirundinidae, deux groupes d`espèces éloignés du point de vue de la systématique mais présentant beaucoup de similitudes (aspect, comportement, alimentation, habitats, migration, etc.). Cette liste est ouverte à tous ceux, spécialistes ou amateurs, qui souhaitent échanger leurs connaissances, informations, interrogations ou points de vue sur tout ce qui concerne les martinets et hirondelles d`Europe et d`ailleurs. Postings in English welcomed too…
Other Links
  • Action for Swifts

    Welcome to Action for Swifts, a commentary on the activities, ideas and thoughts of people who care about Swifts. We welcome guest posts, case studies and reports, especially from Swifts Local Network (SLN) members. Please send to actionforswifts@gmail.com for publication. To find topics of interest, use the LABELS & LINKS sections, or use search, top left. Click on any image to see it enlarged.
  • Young Common Swifts roosting in foliage of trees

    British Birds Article: Within a restricted area of about 9 ha in Skurup, South Sweden (10 km from the south coast); I observed Common Swifts Apus apus roosting in the foliage of trees and on a lattice-work mast. The behaviour was concentrated in August, when Common Swifts migrate southwards in Sweden. A few observations (one in May, eight in June, and three in September) were made outside August…
Photographers & Artists
  • Alpine Swift Tachymarptis melba

    The Alpine swift (Tachymarptis melba) or Apus melba, is a species of swift. Alpine swifts breed in mountains from southern Europe to the Himalaya. Like common swifts, they are strongly migratory, and winter much further south in southern Africa...
  • Chimney Swift Chaetura pelagica Conservation Project

    [good] in-flight image
  • Fork-tailed Swift Apus pacificus

    Excellent [in-flight] image
  • Little Swift Apus affinis

    Excellent close Image
  • White-rumped Swift Apus caffer

    Sound recording
  • White-throated Swift Aeronautes saxatilis

    Excellent in-flight image

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