Common swift

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The common swift (Apus apus) is a highly aerial bird, belonging to the family of swifts, Apodidae.

The common swift species are distributed in Europe, West Asia, Central Asia and Africa. These swift species can remain airborne for ten months during their non-breeding period. There are two recognized subspecies of the common swift.

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

Common swift - Overview

  • Scientific name: Apus apus
  • Species author: (Linnaeus, 1758)
  • Synonyms/Protonym: Hirundo Apus Linnaeus, 1758
  • Family: Apodidae › Apodiformes › Aves › Chordata › Animalia
  • Vernacular names: English: Common swift, Chinese: 雨燕, French: Martinet noir, German: Mauersegler, Spanish: Vencejo común, Russian: Чёрный стриж, Japanese: ヨーロッパアマツバメ, Arabic: السمامة
  • Other names: Eurasian Swift, European Swift, Northern Swift
  • Distribution: Europe, Africa, West Asia, Central Asia
  • Diet and feeding habits: flying insects
  • IUCN status listing: Least Concern (LC)
The common swift (Apus apus) is closely related to Nyanza swift (Apus niansae), Bradfield's swift (Apus bradfieldi), African swift (Apus barbatus), Forbes-Watson's swift (Apus berliozi), plain swift (Apus unicolor), Alexander's Swift (Apus alexandri) and pallid swift (Apus pallidus).

The two recognized subspecies of common swift are: Apus apus apus (Linnaeus, 1758) and Apus apus pekinensis (Swinhoe, 1870).

Appearance, physical description and identification

The common swift (Apus apus) is a medium-sized swift measuring 15 to 20 cm in length and weighing 30 to 50 grams. The wingspan is 35 to 40 cm.

The overall plumage is blackish brown. There is a pale gray or whitish patch on the chin and the lower cheeks. The long tail is deeply forked. The wings are long, pointed and swept-back, giving the bird crescent shape in flight. The irises are black. Their call is a shrill, piercing “srreeerrr...srreeerrr” sound.
Indian birds - Picture of Common swift - Apus apus
Birds of India - Image of Common swift - Apus apus by Finch

Birds of India - Photo of Common swift - Apus apus
Indian birds -Picture of Common swift - Apus apus by pau.artigas

Indian birds - Image of Common swift - Apus apus
Birds of India - Photo of Common swift - Apus apus by Maureen Barlin

Origin, geographical range and distribution

The breeding populations of the common swift species are distributed in Europe, West Asia, Central Asia and northwest Africa (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia).

The nominate subspecies A. a. apus is distributed in Europe, northwest Africa and west Asia. It winters in central and east Africa.

The subspecies A. a. pekinensis occurs in Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, northwest India, Russia, north China and Mongolia. These subspecies winter in southern and eastern Africa (mainly Namibia and Botswana).

Ecosystem and habitat

These common swift species have low forest dependency. These species occur in altitudes from 0 to 3300 meters. These common swift species inhabit artificial ecosystems like agricultural lands and urban areas.

The natural ecosystems of these species includes hot deserts, tropical and subtropical moist lowland forests, moist montane forests, dry grasslands, high altitude grasslands, flooded grasslands, temperate grasslands, dry savanna, shrublands, wetlands, freshwater lakes, marshes and pools.

Diet and feeding behavior

The diet of these common 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 common swifts 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 common swift is in May and June in Pakistan and northwest India. The laying season is from March to June in Israel. The breeding season is from May to July in Britain and Ireland.

The common swifts pair for life. These species nest mainly on buildings. They are also known to nest in tree hollows, abandoned woodpecker holes, cliffs, rock crevices and nestboxes. They often return to the same nesting site year after year.

The nest is cup-shaped and is made of small pieces of vegetable matter and feathers, glued together with saliva. The typical clutch contains two to four white eggs. Both the parents feed the hatchlings with food balls, a mass of insects glued together by saliva.

Migration and movement patterns

The common swift species are long-distance migrant birds.

After breeding, the populations from Europe, north Africa and Asia migrate to central and southern Africa (Equatorial and Subequatorial Africa) for wintering. The migration flight is usually non-stop and a few juveniles may land and rest briefly during the migration.

Roosting sites have never been found in sub-Saharan Africa, indicating their ability to be airborne during the nonbreeding period of ten months. Periodic nocturnal landings of short duration may be made by most individuals. They make twilight ascents, probably for feeding or sleeping.

Conservation and survival

The global population size of the common swift (Apus apus) is estimated to be around 95,000,000 to 164,000,000 mature individuals. The overall population trend of these species is considered to be stable. Throughout its range it is reported to be common to very common. The generation length is 11.2 years. Their distribution size is about 39,800,000

The common swift (Apus apus) does not approached the thresholds for being Vulnerable, either under the range size criterion, or under the population trend criterion or under the population size criterion. Breeding-habitat degradation is the main threat that may endanger the survival of these species.

IUCN and CITES status

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has categorized and evaluated the species and has listed it as of "Least Concern". The CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) status is ‘Not Evaluated’ for the common swift (Apus apus).
Taxonomy and scientific classification of Apus apus
Species:A. apus
Binomial name:Apus apus
IUCN status listing:
Least Concern
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1.Image source:
Image author: Finch |License: CC BY-SA 4.0
2.Image source:
Image author: pau.artigas | License: CC BY-SA 2.0 as on 4/7/17
3.Image source:
Image author: Maureen Barlin \ License: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 as on 4/7/17
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