Little swift -- 小白腰雨燕 (Apus affinis)

Little swift close up
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Little swift fact file

Little swift description

GenusApus (1)

The little swift is a very small bird, highly adapted to its aerial lifestyle, with long, narrow wings and a square-shaped tail. As the little swift spends most of the time gliding, rarely needing to flap its wings, this bird has a flat underside and weak breast muscles (2). The genus name Apus derives from the Greek ‘apous’ meaning ‘footless’, and actually refers to the short legs of the swift, which are so short and weak that, combined with its poorly developed breast muscles, the little swift avoids landing on the ground as it can be difficult to get back into the air (2) (3). In contrast to its weak legs, the little swift has strong feet with incredibly sharp claws, used for clinging on to vertical surfaces (2). Male and female little swifts look alike; both have big, black, beady eyes, a small beak, and black plumage with a white rump and throat. Juveniles differ from adults and have a grey head and body with white-edged flight feathers (4). Little swifts are very vocal especially during the breeding season, when the breeding pairs perform high-pitched duets (2).

Also known as
House swift.
Martinet des maisons.
Length: 12 cm (2)
25 g (2)

Little swift biology

As with all swifts, the little swift forms monogamous breeding pairs (5), with each pair laying one to three eggs, which are incubated for 22 to 24 days (2). The breeding pair is capable of ‘double-clutching’, which means that if the first clutch of eggs is lost they will produce a second to replace it (2). The nest of the little swift is robust and messy-looking outside, but smooth and neat inside. It is hemispherical in shape and built from grass, small twigs, down and feathers, which are glued together with saliva (2). Nests are built in groups of up to 30, and two to three females may lay their eggs in a shared nest (2). The breeding season of this bird depends on the location and the weather; for example, in Senegal and Gambia it breeds from October to July and avoids the rainy season, whereas the little swift breeds all year round in West African rainforest (2).

The swift family are renowned for feeding whilst flying, taking and eating airborne insects such as flying ants, bees, wasps, and beetles on the wing (4). Swifts also drink whilst flying by swooping low and scooping up water into their beaks (2).


Little swift range

The little swift is common and widespread throughout Asia and Africa. It also has a fragmented distribution in the Mediterranean (1). The migration of the little swift is not well documented and its migratory behaviour, as well as other behaviours, varies depending on the region within this large range (2).


Little swift habitat

Found in a wide range of habitats, including forest, savanna, shrubland and grassland (1), the little swift build its nests on vertical surfaces such as cliffs and buildings (2). The prominent features of the little swift’s habitat are an abundant food supply and proximity to a water source (1) (2).


Little swift status

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Little swift threats

Deforestation has led to a decrease of suitable habitats in which the little swift can nest and breed. Man-made structures have also been known to cause death to swifts as there are records of them flying into telephone wires, buildings and aircraft (2). Other threats include chlorine poisoning, caused by drinking water from swimming pools, and falling into fireplaces when nesting in chimneys. There is also evidence that dangerously high levels of pesticides can build up in the little swift after eating contaminated insects (2).


Little swift conservation

There are currently no conservation measures known to be in place for this species.   

Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi is a principal sponsor of ARKive. EAD is working to protect and conserve the environment as well as promoting sustainable development in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

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This species information was authored as part of the Arkive and Universities Scheme.


Flight feathers
The feathers at the end of the wing, involved in flight.
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
Having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.


  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2009)
  2. Del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A. and Sargatal, J. (1999) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 5: Barn-owls to Hummingbirds.  Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Johns, C.A. (1854) Birds’ Nests. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London.
  4. Mangrove and Wetland Wildlife at Sungei Buloh Nature Park (November 2009)
  5. Hockey, P., Dean, W.R.J. and Ryan, P.G. (2005) Birds of Southern Africa. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town. 

Image credit

Little swift close up  
Little swift close up

© Peter Steyn /

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