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Swifts

Swifts are the most aerial of birds and some, like the Common Swift, even sleep and mate on the wing. Larger species, such as white-throated needletail, are amongst the fastest flyers in animal kingdom. One group, the Swiftlets or Cave Swiftlets have developed a form of echolocation for navigating through dark cave systems where they roost. One species, Aerodramus papuensis uses this navigation at night outside its cave roost as well. Bird or Boomerang? Many swifts have a characteristic shape, with a short forked tail and very long swept-back wings that resemble a crescent or a boomerang. The flight of some species is characterized by a distinctive "flicking" action quite different from swallows. Swifts and Swallows: While swifts are superficially similar to swallows, they are actually not closely related to those passerine species at all; swifts are in the separate order Apodiformes, which they formerly shared with the hummingbirds. Who Needs Feet? The scientific name (Apodidae) comes from the Greek απους, apous, meaning "without feet". These birds have very short legs which they use only for clinging to vertical surfaces (hence the German name Mauersegler, literally meaning "wall-glider"). They never settle voluntarily on the ground. Heads in the Clouds: Swifts spend most of their lives in the air, living on the insects they catch in their beaks. They drink and even sleep on the wing. No other bird spends as much of its life in flight. Bird's Nest Soup: The nest of many species is glued to a vertical surface with saliva, and the genus Aerodramus use only that substance, which is the basis for bird's nest soup. As of 2005, dried birdnests can be priced between US$1000 to US$3000 per pound in San Francisco area depending on the type of nest and moisture contents. The moist variety costs less per pound because it weighs more for the same amount of material. The sample in this picture cost about US $20 each. The nests are double steamed until they are broken into tiny Jello-like bits. No Food, No Problem: Many young swifts in the nest can drop their body temperature and become torpid if bad weather prevents their parents from catching insects nearby. Common Swift: The Common Swift (Apus apus) is a small bird, superficially similar to the Barn Swallow or House Martin. It is, however, completely unrelated to those passerine species, since swifts are in the separate order Apodiformes. The resemblances between the groups are due to convergent evolution reflecting similar life styles. Weights and Measures: Common Swifts are 16-17 cm long and entirely blackish-brown except for a small white or pale gray patch on their chins which is not visible from a distance. They have a short forked tail and very long swept-back wings that resemble a crescent or a boomerang. Range and Migration: Like swallows, Common Swifts are migratory, and in midsummer they are found in Great Britain and northern Europe, while they winter much further south in southern Africa. Swifts will occasionally live in forests, but they have adapted more commonly to human sites and will build their nests in all suitable hollows in buildings, under window sills, in the corner rafters of wooden buildings, in chimneys, and in smokestacks. A swift will return to the same nesting site year after year, rebuilding its nest when necessary. Screaming Swifts? The call is a loud scream in two different tone pitches, of which the higher one is from the female and the lower one from the male. Chimney Swift: The Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) is a small swift. In flight, this bird looks like a flying cigar with long slender curved wings. The plumage is a sooty grey-brown; the throat, breast, underwings and rump are paler. They have short tails. What is a Nest But Saliva and Sticks? Their breeding habitat is near towns and cities across eastern North America. Originally, these birds nested in large hollow trees, but now they mainly nest in man-made structures such as large open chimneys. The nest is made of twigs glued together with saliva and placed in a shaded location. Range and Migration: They are long distance migrants and winter in eastern Peru; other nesting locations in South America may exist. They migrate in flocks. This species has occurred as a very rare vagrant to western Europe. the gregarious nature of this species is reflected in that two individuals of this species turned up together on the Isles of Scilly. Flying Food: These birds live on the wing, foraging in flight. They eat flying insects. They usually feed in groups, flying closely together and making a high-pitched chipping noise. Their flight is distinctive: they make rapid angular turns unlike most other birds. They are most often active at dusk, where they are frequently heard before they are seen. A Swift's Home is His Chimney: Their population may have increased with the availability of large chimneys as nesting locations. With suitable man-made habitat becoming less common, their numbers may be declining in some areas. Taxonomy: In the Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy, the old order Apodiformes is split. Swifts remain in that order, but hummingbirds are put into a new order, Trochiliformes. The taxonomy of this group is in general complicated, with genus and species boundaries widely disputed, especially amongst the swiftlets. The treeswifts are closely related to the true swifts, but form a separate family.

Swifts
Swifts








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