Fork-tailed and House Swifts

To: Carol Probets <>
Subject: Fork-tailed and House Swifts
From: Lloyd Nielsen <>
Date: Sat, 01 Mar 2003 11:30:33 +1000
Carol and others interested in swifts,

I came across this little snippet a few days ago, well explained by David James
which may help when looking at swifts.

"On the morning of 28th December 1999 about 40 km S of Townsville N. Qld, I
came across a flock of several thousand Fork-tailed Swifts. I spent well over
an hour scrutinising this lot, searching for odd things. And I found a few....

One or two White-throated Needletails stood out as chunkier with short square
tails, grey backs and white vents. More interesting was the handful of slim
swifts with dark vents and white rumps (like Fork-tailed Swifts) but with short
squarish tails.

House Swifts perhaps? No! These were Fork-tailed Swifts in tail and wing moult.
Quite a few had "moult gaps" (missing feathers) in the outer primaries and in
the secondaries. Some had tails a bit shorter than usual with only a shallow
fork and some had tails very short and apparently square (when fanned). This is
to be expected in December and January when Fork-tailed Swifts are in full
moult. The moult changes the flight dynamics just a tad, and the moulting birds
flap more and glide less. Important features which defined these birds as
Fork-tailed were the scaly-grey underbody and underwing coverts and the clouded
demarcation between the white throat and the underbody."
(Abridged from Contact Call - (our NE Qld Birds Australia newsletter) - March

On the subject of white rump in Fork-tailed, at Klaus's recent (January) Bird
Week at Bamaga (tip of Cape York), we were scanning a huge flock of Fork-tailed
for anything different when we noticed birds with a "super-white" rump. We
thought we had something different but then realized that the late afternoon
light was accentuating the brightness of the rump colour. Disappointly, they
were just more Fork-tailed.

Hope this is of some help.

Lloyd Nielsen
Mt Molloy  Nth Qld

Carol Probets wrote:

> I've been reluctant to post this because I only had a brief glimpse and
> it's all based on very subjective impressions, but after chewing it over I
> think it's worth mentioning.
> Yesterday morning (27th Feb) I was at Wentworth Falls Lake (in the NSW Blue
> Mountains) with a small birdwatching class. I was busy pointing out the
> features of a Hardhead and Australasian Grebes on the far side of the lake,
> when I looked up and noticed two swift-like birds flying away from us to
> the north. They were already a fair way off, but I could see they had
> swift-like wings, a large patch of bright white on the rump, and had a
> slower and more even flight than Needletails or Fork-tailed Swifts. I
> didn't see the shape of the tail or the throat or anything else about the
> bird, and they disappeared over a ridge before we could get a better look.
> One other person in the group who got her binoculars onto them also
> commented on the white rump. They definitely weren't martins. It's possible
> that they were Fork-tailed Swifts, but the flight style didn't quite seem
> right and the white on the rump seemed too extensive. I didn't even think
> of House Swift until I looked at the field guide later, and it all seemed
> to click into place.
> While this sighting can only ever remain one of those frustrating "maybes",
> I suggest people look carefully at any swift-like birds at the moment. You
> never know!
> Cheers
> Carol
> Carol Probets
> Katoomba
> Blue Mountains NSW

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