Apus apus (Common swift, European swift)

Europese windswael [Afrikaans]; Ihlabankomo, Ihlankomo (generic names for swifts) [Xhosa]; iJankomo, uHlolamvula [Zulu]; Lehaqasi (generic term for swifts) [South Sotho]; Nkonjana (generic term for swift) [Tsonga]; Pêolwane, Phêtla (generic terms for swifts, martins and swallows) [Tswana]; Gierzwaluw [Dutch]; Martinet noir [French]; Mauersegler [German]; Andorinhão-preto-europeu [Portuguese]

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Apus apus (Common swift, European swift)

Apus apus (Common swift, European swift)

Common swift. [photo © H. Robertson, Iziko]

Common swift, West Coast National Park, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

The Common swift breeds from China through Asia to Europe and and North Africa, with non-breeding grounds encompassing the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. It is a palearctic non-breeding migrant, usually arriving in southern Africa in October-November, leaving roughly from January-March. It exclusively eats arthropods, foraging at much higher altitudes than local-breeding swifts, often reaching heights of 1500-3000 m above ground, usually flying at 36-90 km/hr, but it has been known to reach 216 km/hr in certain conditions! Interestingly, it is permanently airborne in non-breeding grounds, roosting on the wing.

Distribution and habitat

Breeds from China through Asia to Europe and North Africa, with non-breeding grounds encompassing the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. It occurs in patches across southern Africa in a wide range of habitats, although it generally prefers open, semi-arid areas.

Distribution of Common swift in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Movements and migrations

Palearctic non-breeding migrant, arriving in southern Africa in the period from October-November, leaving from January-March.

Food 

It feeds exclusively on arthropods, especially insects 2-12 mm long, foraging at much higher altitudes than local-breeding swifts, often reaching heights of 1500-3000 m above ground. It usually flies at 36-90 km/hr, but it has been known to reach 216 km/hr in certain conditions! If it is cold and wet it descends lower, often feeding on termite alate emergences. Interestingly, it is permanently airborne in its non-breeding grounds, roosting on the wing.

Threats

Not threatened, in fact has a stable estimated population of 25 million individuals.

References

  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town. 

 

 

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