[order] Apodiformes | [family] Apodidae | [latin] Hirundapus caudacutus | [UK] White-Throated Needletail | [FR] Martinet épineux | [DE] Stachelschwanzsegler | [ES] Vencejo Mongol | [IT] Rondone codaspinosa golabianca | [NL] Stekelstaartgierzwaluw

Stekelstaartgierzwaluw determination

copyright: T. Tarrant

This large swift (20 - 22 cm) is often mistaken in flight for a small bird of prey, but its long curved wings and white markings should identify it. The plumage is predominantly grey-brown, glossed with green and the wings are long and pointed. The tail is short and square, with the protruding feather shafts giving a spiky appearance. The throat and undertail are white. They are able to achieve great speeds of up to 130 km per hour.

Breeds in continental upper middle and lower middle latitudes, in dry warm climates. Apart from roosting and nesting in holes or crevices of rocks or trees, is entirely aerial, ranging from lower to upper airspace and covering great distances at exceptional speed, thus rendering inapplicable conventional habitat descriptions. Changing air conditions are more relevant, both directly in influencing avoidance of rain, thunderstorms, and thick cloud by causing descent to near ground or water, and indirectly by effects upon concentrations of insects, which are often hawked in fine weather high over river valleys and upland pastures.

Breeds central Siberia (Tomsk region) east to Kuril Islands and Japan, south to Himalayas and western China. Forested areas from central Siberia east to Sachalin, Kurile Islands, and northern Japan; southern Himalayas; wintering in Australia and New Zealand, and to sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island. Accidental in Seychelles, western Europe, and British Isles. Only North American records in Pribiloff Islands. In Europe vagrant to Britain, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Spain, Malta.

The White-throated Needletail feeds on flying insects, such as termites, ants beetles and flies. They catch the insects in flight in their wide gaping beaks. Birds usually feed in rising thermal currents associated with storm fronts and bushfires and they are commonly seen moving with wind fronts. While feeding, the White-throated Needletail protects its eyes with a special membrane and a small ridge of feathers. The birds also drink in flight.

This species has a large range, with an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 1,000,000-10,000,000 km². The global population size has not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population size criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. less than 10,000 mature individuals in conjunction with appropriate decline rates and subpopulation qualifiers), even though the species is described as 'rare' in at least parts of its range. Global population trends have not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern. [conservation status from birdlife.org]

Three to six white eggs are laid in a nest made of various materials, glued together with sticky saliva, and built in a hollow or similar crevice high in a tall conifer. Incubation ranges from 17 to 23 days and is carried out by both parents.

Northern populations, breeding central Siberia to Japan, winter in Australia. Not recorded from Indian subcontinent; hence must move east to south-east in autumn (reverse in spring), passing to north of major mountain chains of central Asia. European records May-July, though November in Spain and Malta.