Tachymarptis melba (Alpine swift)

[= Apus melba]

Witpenswindswael [Afrikaans]; Ihlabankomo, Ubhantom [Xhosa]; Sisampamema (generic term for swallows, martins, swifts and spinetails) [Kwangali]; Lehaqasi (generic term for swifts), Lehaqasi-le-lephatsoa [South Sotho]; Nkonjana (generic term for swift) [Tsonga]; Pêolwane, Phêtla (generic terms for swifts, martins and swallows) [Tswana]; alpengierzwaluw [Dutch]; Martinet à ventre blanc [French]; Alpensegler [German]; Andorinhão-real [Portuguese]

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Tachymarptis melba (Alpine swift) Tachymarptis melba (Alpine swift)

Alpine swift, Luneberg, South Africa. [photo Johann Grobbelaar ©]

Alpine swift, Klipheuwel Farmlands, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

The Alpine swift is patchily distributed across sub-Saharan Africa, and is most common in southern Africa, especially in Namibia and South Africa. It forages in mixed species flocks, along with other swifts and swallows, and can travel up to about 1000 km's in a day! It tends to fly at extremely high altitudes, however it does occasionally come down to the ground to feed on grasshoppers, honey bees, etc. It is a colonial nester, living in colonies of about 20-35 breeding pairs, who construct bowl-shaped nests, usually placed so that they bridge a vertical rock crack, with multiple nests often stacked on top of each other, like apartment blocks. Nests tend to be reused over multiple breeding seasons, in fact a 28 year old colony has been recorded in the Western Cape.

Distribution and habitat

Patchily distributed across sub-Saharan Africa, from Ethiopia south to southern Africa. Within southern Africa it occurs in Namibia, eastern Botswana, northern and southern Zimbabwe, western Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho and South Africa. Breeds in mountainous areas, but it can forage over almost any habitat, generally preferring alpine grassland and fynbos.

Distribution of Alpine 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.  

Predators and parasites

Movements and Migrations

Partial intra-African breeding migrant, as it has a resident population in Namibia and a migratory population in the rest of southern Africa. This population arrives here around August, going through its full breeding cycle before leaving around May, although some individuals stay here throughout the winter.

Food 

It forages in mixed species flocks along with other swifts and swallows, sometimes travelling up to about 1000 km's in a day! It tends to fly at extremely high altitudes, however it does occasionally come down to the ground to feed on insects. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

Breeding

  • Monogamous, colonial nester, living in colonies of about 20-35 breeding pairs, sometimes including other species such as the African black swift.
  • The nest is built by both sexes, consisting of a roughly bowl-shaped platform, made mostly of feathers, grass and leaves glued together with saliva. It is usually placed so that it bridges a vertical rock crack, with multiple nests often stacked on top of each other like apartment blocks. It can also be placed in horizontal crevices, buildings and even concrete silos. Nests tend to be reused over multiple breeding seasons, in fact a 28 year old colony has been recorded in the Western Cape.
  • Egg-laying season is from August-January.
  • It lays 1-2 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for about 17-23 days.
  • The chicks are cared for by both parents, leaving the nest at about 45-55 days old.

Threats

Not threatened, in fact its range has greatly increased recently due to the increasing availability of man-made nest sites.

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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