Alpine swift

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The Alpine swift (Tachymarptis melba) is a highly aerial bird, belonging to the family of swifts, Apodidae.

These swift species are distributed in Southern Europe, Africa, West Asia, Middle East, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. These Alpine swift species can stay airborne for over a period of more than 6 months. There are ten recognized subspecies of these swift species.

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

Appearance, physical description and identification

The Alpine swift (Tachymarptis melba) is a large swift, measuring 20 to 22 cm in length and weighing 75 to 120 grams. The wingspan is 55 cm.

The overall plumage of Alpine swift is dark grayish brown. The chin, upper throat, lower breast and the belly regions are white. The lower throat and the upper breast are dark brown, separating the white patches. The wings are comparatively broader than other swift species.

The tail is forked. The irises are dark brown. The feet and the beak are dark gray. The feet are very short and only useful for clinging to a vertical surface. Their call is a drawn-out twittering sound.

The Alpine swift is known to stay airborne for long periods of time. (ref: Liechti, F. et al. First evidence of a 200-day non-stop flight in a bird. Nat. Commun. 4:2554 doi: 10.1038/ncomms3554 (2013).

Felix Liechti et al reported "Here we present the first unequivocal evidence that an individual bird of the Alpine swift (Tachymarptis melba) can stay airborne for migration, foraging and roosting over a period of more than 6 months."

Indian birds - Picture of Alpine swift - Tachymarptis melba
Birds of India - Image of Alpine swift - Tachymarptis melba by Richard Crossley

Birds of India - Photo of Alpine swift - Tachymarptis melba
Indian birds - Picture of Alpine swift - Tachymarptis melba
Indian birds - Image of Alpine swift - Tachymarptis melba
Birds of India - Photo of Alpine swift - Tachymarptis melba by Francesco Veronesi

Origin, geographical range and distribution

The Alpine swift species are distributed in Southern Europe, Africa, West Asia, Middle East, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

The nominate Alpine swift subspecies T. m. melba is distributed in northern Morocco, Asian part of modern Turkey and northwest Iran. It winters in west, central and east Africa. The subspecies T. m. archeri is distributed in Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Somalia.

The Alpine swift subspecies T. m. tuneti is distributed in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Middle East, Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and west Pakistan. It winters in west and east Africa.

The Alpine swift subspecies T. m. africanus is distributed in east and south Africa and southwest Angola and winters in E Africa. The subspecies T. m. marjoriae is distributed in Namibia and western South Africa. The swift subspecies T. m. maximus is distributed in Uganda and DR Congo.

The Alpine swift subspecies T. m. nubifugus is distributed in Himalayan region and winters in central India. The subspecies T. m. dorabtatai is distributed in west peninsular India and the subspecies T. m. bakeri is distributed in Sri Lanka. The subspecies T. m. willsi is distributed Madagascar.

Ecosystem and habitat

These Alpine swift species have low forest dependency. These species occur in altitudes from 0 to 2800 meters.

The Alpine swift species inhabit a wide range of artificial and natural ecosystems. They inhabit artificial ecosystems like urban areas with tall structures and abandoned buildings.

The natural ecosystem of these swift species includes tropical and subtropical montane forests, tropical and subtropical moist lowland forests, tropical and subtropical dry grasslands, tropical and subtropical high altitude grasslands and temperate grasslands.

The Alpine swift species also inhabit wetland ecosystems like tropical and subtropical flooded grasslands, freshwater lakes, freshwater marshes, rivers, streams, creeks, marshes and pools.

Diet and feeding behavior

The diet of these swift species is mostly flying insects. Aeroplankton (or aerial plankton), flies, airborne spiders, moths, butterflies, flying termites and ants, dragonflies, locust, cicadas, grasshoppers, crickets and mantises are their primary food.

The Alpine swift are excellent aerial foragers, hawking insects on the wing. They are exceptionally agile in flight and drink by skimming the water surface while flying. The hatchlings are fed with food balls, a mass of insects bound together by saliva.

Reproduction and breeding habits

The breeding season of the Alpine swift is from March to June in Middle East. The breeding season is in April and May in northern Africa. The breeding season is May and June in west central Asia. Crevices in cliff-rocks, ledges and tall man-made isolated structures are nesting sites.

A Alpine swift pair may use the same site in successive years. The nest is a saucer-like structure made by glueing together the down and primary feathers and dry plant material with saliva. The nest is glued to the vertical surface. The typical Alpine swift clutch may contain three smooth, white, oval eggs.

Migration and movement patterns

The Alpine swift species are partially migratory birds.

The Alpine swift populations in palearctic, temperate and Mediterranean zones are found to be highly migratory, wintering in north tropical Africa. The subspecies T. m. nubifugus from Himalayas winters in central India. The subspecies T. m. africanus from South Africa and South Angola winters in East Africa.

The Alpine swift populations in south India, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, west Angola, Namibia and parts of Ethiopia are non-migratory resident birds. Post breeding, the juveniles may disperse and establish in new locations within the range. They may make local movements for feeding and breeding within their range.

Alpine swift - Overview

  • Scientific name: Tachymarptis melba
  • Species author: (Linnaeus, 1758)
  • Synonyms/Protonym: Hirundo Melba Linnaeus, 1758, Apus melba
  • Family: Apodidae › Apodiformes › Aves › Chordata › Animalia
  • Vernacular names: English: Alpine swift, Chinese: 高山雨燕, French: Martinet à ventre blanc, German: Alpensegler, Spanish: Vencejo real, Russian: Белобрюхий стриж, Japanese: シロハラアマツバメ, Tamil: Malai Uzhavaran
  • Other names: White-bellied Swift
  • Distribution: Southern Europe, Africa, West Asia, Middle East, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka
  • Diet and feeding habits: flying insects
  • IUCN status listing: Least Concern (LC)
The ten recognized subspecies of the Alpine swift (Tachymarptis melba) are: T. m. melba (Linnaeus, 1758), T. m. tuneti, T. m. bakeri, T. m. dorabtatai, T. m. archeri, T. m. maximus, T. m. nubifugus, T. m. willsi, T. m. africanus and T. m. marjoriae.

Conservation and survival

The global population size of the Alpine swift (Tachymarptis melba) is estimated to be around 1000000 to 2500000 individual birds. The overall population trend of these swift species is considered to be stable. Throughout its range it is reported to be widespread and fairly common. The generation length is 7.3 years. Their distribution size is about 61,100,000

The Alpine swift (Tachymarptis melba) 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 increased usage of pesticides and the resultant reduction in the airborne insects is the main threat that may endanger the survival of these swift species.

IUCN and CITES status

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has categorized and evaluated the swift 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 Alpine swift (Tachymarptis melba).
Taxonomy and scientific classification of Tachymarptis melba
Species:T. melba
Binomial name:Tachymarptis melba
IUCN status listing:
Least Concern
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1.Image source:
Image author: Richard Crossley | License: CC BY-SA 3.0
2.Image source:
Image author: | License: CC BY-SA 3.0
3.Image source:
Image author: Francesco Veronesi | License: CC BY-SA 2.0
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