Apus caffer (White-rumped swift)

Witkruiswindswael [Afrikaans]; Ihlabankomo, Ihlankomo (generic names for swifts) [Xhosa]; uNonqane [Zulu]; Sisampamema (generic term for swallows, martins, swifts and spinetails) [Kwangali]; Lehaqasi (generic term for swifts) [South Sotho]; Nkonjana (generic term for swift) [Tsonga]; Pêolwane, Phêtla (generic terms for swifts, martins and swallows) [Tswana]; kaffergierzwaluw [Dutch]; Martinet cafre [French]; Weißbürzelsegler [German]; Andorinhão-cafre [Portuguese]

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Apus caffer (White-rumped swift)  

White-rumped swift. [photo Johann Grobbelaar ©]

 

The White-rumped swift is widespread and common, occurring across sub-Saharan Africa. It often forages in mixed species flocks, usually over savanna, forest, grassland or shrubland, eating mainly termite alates. It usually steals the nests of other swifts and swallows, aggressively chasing the breeding pair away, before evicting any chicks or eggs present in the nest. The female actually lays multiple clutches of 1-5 eggs in one breeding season, waiting only a week after the chicks have fledged before laying another clutch. This process, known as multi-brooding, is part of the reason that this species is so common, as it means that one female can produce dozens of chicks annually.

Distribution and habitat

Occurs from south-western Europe to Africa, excluding the Sahara and large parts of the DRC, Angola and Tanzania. In southern Africa it is common in Namibia, south-eastern Botswana, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and South Africa. As it spends a large portion of its life in the air, it is not picky about what habitats it forages over, however it generally prefers savanna, forest, grassland and shrubland.

Distribution of White-rumped 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

Breeding migrant, arriving in southern Africa around August-October, going through its full breeding cycle before departing in the period from April-May.

Food 

It exclusively eats insects, typically foraging aerially in mixed species flocks, along with other swift and swallow species. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

Breeding

  • It does not usually make its own nest, instead it steals the nests of other swifts and swallows, especially Little swift and South African cliff-swallow but also the Greater-striped, Lesser-striped, Wire-tailed and Red-breasted swallows. It is extremely vicious and aggressive, evicting breeding swallows from their active nests, harassing the breeding pair before throwing out any chicks or eggs. It occasionally builds its own nest, which is a flat platform of feathers glued together with saliva, typically placed in a rock crevice, cliff or building.
  • Egg-laying season is from August-April, peaking from September-January.
  • It lays 1-5 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for 21-25 days. The female actually lays multiple clutches in one breeding season, waiting only a week after the chicks have fledged before laying another clutch. This process, known as multi-brooding, is important factor of why this species is so common, as it means that one female can produce dozens of chicks annually.
  • The chicks are brooded for the first three weeks of their lives, leaving the nest and becoming independent at about 35-53 days old.

Threats

Not threatened, in fact extremely common and widespread.

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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