Little swift

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The little swift (Apus affinis) belongs to the family of swifts, Apodidae.

The little swift species are distributed in Indian subcontinent, Africa, Middle East and part of central Asia. These swift species are highly aerial birds, spending most of their lives in the air. These swifts are polytypic species.

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

Little swift - Overview

  • Scientific name: Apus affinis
  • Species author: (JE Gray, 1830)
  • Synonyms/Protonym: Cypselus affinis J. E. Gray, 1830
  • Family: Apodidae › Apodiformes › Aves › Chordata › Animalia
  • Vernacular names: English: Little swift, Chinese: 小雨燕, French: Martinet des maisons, German: Haussegler, Spanish: Vencejo moro, Russian: Малый стриж, Japanese: ニシヒメアマツバメ, Hindi: Babeela, Indonesian: Kapinis rumah
  • Other names: House Swift (when lumped with A. nipalensis)
  • Distribution: Indian subcontinent, Africa, Middle East, part of central Asia
  • Diet and feeding habits: Flies, winged termites and ants, beetles, locust, grasshoppers, airborne spiders, dragonflies
  • IUCN status listing: Least Concern (LC)

Appearance, physical description and identification

The little swift (Apus affinis) is a small swift, measuring 12 cm in length and weighing 25 grams. They are compact and broad-bodied.

The overall plumage of little swift is glossy black or dark blackish brown. The forehead and uppertail coverts are paler. There is white throat patch. The broad white rump patch extends considerably onto the rear flanks.

The wing is relatively short and blunt-ended. The primaries and secondaries are dark grayish brown with black outerwebs. The secondaries are pale tipped. The leading-edge coverts are broadly fringed white.

These little swift species have distinctive tail shape. The tail appears square ended when closed and rounded when open. It may also appear uneven with a slight cleft. The tail is pale gray and appears translucent in flight.

These little swift species have very short legs, useful only for clinging to a vertical surface. The bill is small and black. The irises are dark brown. Their call is a rapid twittering descending trill “ti-ti-ti-tititrrrrrr” sound.
Indian birds - Picture of Little swift - Apus affinis
1.Birds of India - Image of Little swift - Apus affinis by Peter Steward

Birds of India - Photo of Little swift - Apus affinis
2.Indian birds - Picture of Little swift - Apus affinis by J.M.Garg

Indian birds - Image of Little swift - Apus affinis
3.Birds of India - Photo of Little swift - Apus affinis by Donald Hobern

Origin, geographical range and distribution

The little swift species are distributed in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, parts of Middle East, parts of central Asia and Africa.

Vagrant little swifts have been observed in Australia, Bulgaria, Greece, Sweden, United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Maldives, Malta and Seychelles.

In India, these little swift species are distributed in the states of Kerala, Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir and Bihar.

The little swift nominate subspecies A. a. affinis is distributed in Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar and south of Himalayas in India. Some populations winter in India and some in Africa.

The little swift subspecies A. a. singalensis is distributed in southern India and Sri Lanka. The subspecies A. a. theresae is distributed in Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.

The little swift subspecies A. a. bannermani is distributed in Bioko, Príncipe and São Tomé, in Gulf of Guinea. The subspecies A. a. aerobates is distributed in central Africa, from Mauritania to Somalia and along eastern Africa.

The little swift subspecies A. a. galilejensis is distributed in northwest Africa, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia and northwest Somalia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) in Turkey are Dicle Valley, Southern Euphrates Valley and Birecik Plains.

Ecosystem and habitat

These little swift species have low forest dependence. These species normally occur in altitudes from 0 to 3000 meters. The artificial ecosystems of these species include rural and urban human habitations.

The natural ecosystems of these little swift species include tropical and subtropical mangrove vegetations, tropical and subtropical dry grasslands, tropical and subtropical moist lowland forests, dry savanna, Mediterranean-type shrublands and tropical and subtropical dry shrublands.

Diet and feeding behavior

The diet of the little swift consists mainly of 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.

These little swift species 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 these little swift species is from February to May and August to October in Mauritania. The breeding season is from October to July in Senegal and Gambia. They lay year-round in West African rainforest areas.

The nominate little swift species breed year-round in India, except cold winter months. The laying season in Sri Lanka is from March to July. In Pakistan these species breed during February and March.

The nesting sites of the little swift include man-made structures, abandoned swallow nests and cliff sites. These birds are colonial breeders and typically up to 30 nests can be seen together. Sometimes two or three birds lay eggs in one nest.

The hemispherical nest-bag is made of grass, down feathers, small twigs and feathers glued and fixed to the vertical surface with saliva. The nest is sturdy; though the nest appears untidy, it is neat and smooth inside.

The little swift clutch may contain 1-3 white eggs. Both the parents incubate the eggs for 22-24 days. In some cases a second clutch is laid after the fledging of the earlier brood. Egg laying may get completed within ten days in a colony.

Migration and movement patterns

The little swift species are partially migrant birds.

The little swift populations in western Palearctic region as well as the southern African populations are partially or fully migratory, moving to tropical and subtropical regions. The rest of the populations are resident.

Post breeding, the juvenile swifts may disperse and establish in new locations within the range. They may make local movements for feeding and breeding within their range.

Conservation and survival

The global population size of the little swift (Apus affinis) has not been quantified. The overall population trend of these species is reported to be increasing.

Throughout its range this swift species is reported to be scarce to locally abundant. The generation length is 12.5 years. Its distribution size is about 60,600,000

Habitat degradation, habitat loss and sharp fall in the flying insect population due excessive use of farm chemicals are the main threats that may endanger the survival of these swift species.

IUCN and CITES status

The little swift (Apus affinis) 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 IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has categorized and evaluated the swift 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 little swift (Apus affinis).
Taxonomy and scientific classification of Apus affinis
Species:A. affinis
Binomial name:Apus affinis
IUCN status listing:
Least Concern
The little swift (Apus affinis) is closely related to white-rumped swift (Apus caffer), Bates's swift (Apus batesi), Horus swift (Apus horus) and house swift (Apus nipalensis).

The six recognized subspecies of the little swift (Apus affinis) are: A. a. affinis (J. E. Gray, 1830), A. a. singalensis Madarász, 1911, A. a. theresae R. Meinertzhagen, 1949, A. a. bannermani E. J. O. Hartert, 1928, A. a. aerobates Brooke, 1969 and A. a. galilejensis (Antinori, 1855).
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1.Little swift photo source: (cropped)
Photo author: Peter Steward | License: CC BY-NC 2.0 as on 7/10/17
2.Photo source: (cropped)
Photo author: J.M.Garg | License: CC BY-SA 3.0
3.Photo source: (cropped)
Photo author: Donald Hobern | License: CC BY 2.0 as on 7/10/17
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