White-throated needletail

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The white-throated needletail (Hirundapus caudacutus) belongs to the family of swifts, Apodidae.

These needletail species are distributed in Himalayan foothills in India and Pakistan, Southeast Asia, Australia, Russia, Mongolia, China, South Korea, North Korea and Japan. The needletail is so named because of the needle-like feather spines projecting beyond the tail feather. These needletail species have very short legs. There are two recognized subspecies of white-throated needletail.

Overview & Quick Facts Description & Identification
Pictures of White-throated Needletail Distribution & Range
Ecosystem & Habitat Diet & Feeding Behavior
Breeding Habits Migration & Movement Patterns
Conservation & Survival IUCN Status
Taxonomy & Classification Bird World

White-throated needletail - Overview

  • Scientific name: Hirundapus caudacutus
  • Species author: (Latham, 1801)
  • Synonyms/Protonym: Hirundo caudacuta Latham, 1801
  • Family: Apodidae › Apodiformes › Aves › Chordata › Animalia
  • Vernacular names: English: White-throated needletail, Chinese: 白喉针尾雨燕, French: Martinet épineux, German: Stachelschwanzsegler, Spanish: Vencejo mongol, Russian: Колючехвостый стриж, Japanese: ハリオアマツバメ, Indonesian: Burung Kapinis-jarum Asia, Malay: Burung Layang-layang Ekor Runcing Utara
  • Other names: Needletail Swift, Northern Needletail, Northern Spine-tailed Swift, Spinetail swift
  • Distribution: India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Siberia, Mongolia, China, Korea, Japan, New Guinea, Australia
  • Diet and feeding habits: large flying insects
  • IUCN status listing: Least Concern (LC)
The white-throated needletail (Hirundapus caudacutus) is closely related to silver-backed needletail (Hirundapus cochinchinensis). The two recognized subspecies of white-throated needletail are: Hirundapus caudacutus caudacutus (Latham, 1801) and Hirundapus caudacutus nudipes (Hodgson, 1837).

Appearance, physical description and identification

The white-throated needletail (Hirundapus caudacutus) is medium-sized needletail, measuring 18 to 21 cm in length and weighting 100 to 140 grams.
The white-throated needletail head, face, neck and the underparts are dark yellowish-green and the crown is glossy. The mantle and back are pale gray. There is a narrow whitish band across the forehead and lores. The chin and throat region has a large whitish patch. The upper wing and the uppertail are blackish.

The upper wings of the white-throated needletail have whitish patch at the base of the trailing edges and the uppertail has greenish gloss. The underwing is blackish brown and the undertail is black with greenish gloss. There is a whitish band across the rear flanks, the vent and the undertail coverts.

The white-throated needletail has a thickset spindle-shaped body with stubby tail. The wings are long, pointed and narrow. The bill is black and the irises are blackish. The legs and feet are dark gray. The juveniles are similar to adults, but a bit paler and lack glossy plumage. The white-throated needletail call is a continuous, rapid, chattering “trp-trp-trp-trp” sound.
Indian birds - Picture of White-throated needletail - Hirundapus caudacutus
Birds of India - Image of White-throated needletail - Hirundapus caudacutus by Ron Knight
Birds of India - Photo of White-throated needletail - Hirundapus caudacutus
Indian birds - Picture of White-throated needletail - Hirundapus caudacutus by Ron Knight

Origin, geographical range and distribution

The white-throated needletail subspecies H. c. caudacutus is distributed in Russia, Mongolia, China, South Korea, North Korea and Japan.

The wintering populations of H. c. caudacutus occur in New Guinea, Timor-Leste and Australia. The subspecies H. c. nudipes is distributed in India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia.

In India these white-throated needletail subspecies H. c. nudipes occur in the Himalayan foothills in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, northern West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. In China H. c. nudipes occurs in Tibet, Sichuan and Yunnan. Vagrant birds have been observed in Europe and United States.

Ecosystem and habitat

These white-throated needletail species do not have forest dependency. They inhabit lowland or montane open forest ecosystems. These needletail species inhabit tropical coastal forests, wooded lowlands, sparsely vegetated hills, subtropical moist lowlands, open country with scattered trees, tropical moist lowlands, temperate forest, temperate shrubland and montane forests. These white-throated needletail species occur in altitudes 0 to 4000 meters.

Diet and feeding behavior

The diet of these white-throated needletail species is mostly large insects. Insects like grasshoppers, locusts, cicadas, moths, beetles, bees, wasps, flies and flying ants and termites are the primary food. They feed aerially. They prefer to forage in a swarm of insects.

The white-throated needletail make use of updraughts in areas such as ridges, cliffs, sand-dunes, bushfires and whirlwinds which uplifts their food sources and aid their foraging flight. They often forage along the edge of a low pressure weather system. The white-throated needletail are very rarely seen launching from a tree in pursuit of individual flying insect.

Reproduction and breeding habits

The breeding season of these white-throated needletail species is during May and June in Siberia, Mongolia and Japan. The breeding season is probably during April in India. They build their nest in rocky crevices or hollow of tall coniferous trees.

The white-throated needletail nest is half-cup shaped and is made of thin twigs and straw cemented together by the bird's saliva. The nest is glued to the vertical surface of the rock or tree. The clutch may comprise two to seven eggs. Both the parents incubate the eggs and young fledge after 40 days.

Migration and movement patterns

The nominate white-throated needletail subspecies Hirundapus caudacutus caudacutus is a long distance trans-equatorial migrant.
They migrate from their breeding grounds in Siberia, Mongolia, northeastern China, North Korea, South Korea and Japan in August and October. The needletail reach the wintering grounds in New Guinea, Timor-Leste and eastern Australia, during September and October.

The white-throated needletail subspecies H. c. caudacutus leave the wintering grounds in March and April and arrive back at their breeding grounds in May. The white-throated needletail subspecies H. c. nudipes is resident and perhaps make altitudinal migration. Post breeding dispersal of the needletail juveniles takes place. They may make local movements for feeding and breeding.

Conservation and survival

The global population size of the white-throated needletail (Hirundapus caudacutus) has not been quantified. The overall population size of these needletail species is considered to be stable. Throughout its range it is reported to be uncommon. The generation length is 8.5 years. Their distribution size is about 16,700,000 sq.km.

The white-throated needletail (Hirundapus caudacutus) does not approach the thresholds for being Vulnerable either under the range size criterion or under the population trend criterion or under the population size criterion. The expanding agricultural practices and excessive use of pesticides leading to decline in prey insects are the threats that may endanger the survival of these white-throated needletail species.

IUCN and CITES status

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has categorized and evaluated the needletail species and has listed it as of "Least Concern". CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) status is ‘Not Evaluated’ for the white-throated needletail (Hirundapus caudacutus).
Taxonomy and scientific classification of Hirundapus caudacutus
Species:H. caudacutus
Binomial name:Hirundapus caudacutus
IUCN status listing:
Least Concern
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Image author: Ron Knight | License: CC BY 2.0 (as on 2017-01-01)
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