Hirundo semirufa (Red-breasted swallow) 

Rooiborsswael [Afrikaans]; Sisampamema (generic term for swallows, martins, swifts and spinetails) [Kwangali]; Lekabelane (generic term for swallows or martins) [South Sotho]; Nyenganyenga (generic name for swallow or martin) [Shona]; Nyengha leyi kulu [Tsonga]; Polwane, Phtla (generic terms for swifts, martins and swallows) [Tswana]; Roodborstzwaluw [Dutch]; Hirondelle ventre roux [French]; Rotbauchschwalbe [German]; Andorinha-de-peito-ruivo [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Passeriformes  > Family: Hirundinidae

Hirundo semirufa (Red-breasted swallow) 
Red-breasted swallow, Mokala National Park, South Africa. [photo Duncan Robertson ].
Hirundo semirufa (Red-breasted swallow)  Hirundo semirufa (Red-breasted swallow) 

Red-breasted swallow. [photo Neil Gray ]

Red-breasted swallow. [photo Lorinda Steenkamp ]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs from West Africa and the DRC through Angola and Zambia to southern Africa. Here it is locally common in the open savanna and sweet grassland of Zimbabwe, Limpopo Province, Swaziland, North-West Province, Free State, north-central Namibia and northern and eastern Botswana.

Distribution of Red-breasted swallow 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

Intra-African breeding migrant, arriving in southern Africa around August-September and mainly departing from April-May for its non-breeding grounds in the equatorial region.


It mainly eats arthropods such as termite alates, flies and small beetles, hawking prey from the air or occasionally from the ground.


  • Usually a monogamous solitary nester, although there is one record of polygamy from near Bloemfontein, where 2 females laid 4 eggs in the same nest. It produces two broods per breeding season, laying the second clutch of eggs roughly 16-30 days after the first brood leaves the nest.
  • The nest is built by both sexes over a period of 13-35 days. It consists of a thick-walled bowl made of mud pellets and lined with fine grass, sheep's wool, hair and feathers. A 9-37 cm long tunnel is built onto the side of the structure. It is typically placed in the roof of an Aardvark (Orycteporus afer) burrow, hollow termite mound, underside of a fallen tree or a hole in an earthen bank. With man-made structures it is most commonly placed in road culverts, with the entrance tunnel running along the roof of the pipe. It may also position it against the roof of a building or in an electric tower, but this is not recorded very often.
  • Egg-laying season is from August-April, peaking around November-December.
  • It lays 1-6, usually 3 eggs, which are incubated solely by the female for about 18-23 days.
  • The chicks are fed by both adults, leaving the nest after about 23-25 days. Juveniles return to their home nest to roost for up to 15 days after fledging.


Not threatened, in fact its range has expanded south and east due to the availability of road culverts as nest sites


  • 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. 

  • Harrison, J.A., Allan, D.G., Underhill, L.G., Herremans, M., Tree. A.J., Parker, V. & Brown, C.J. (eds). 1997. The atlas of southern African birds. Vol. 2: Passerines. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.



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