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What is a Little Swift?

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  • Written By: J. Schuessler
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2016
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A little swift, or Apus affinis, is a small bird native to Africa and southern Asia. Similar in size and general appearance to a swallow, the little swift is, however, unrelated to that separate family of birds. Like the swallows, little swifts possess short, pointed wings that allow for high maneuverability in the air, where they spend most of their time. They are mostly black, with patches of white on the tail and hindquarters. The tail is short and square, and the bird's wingspan is about 13 inches (33 cm).

Little swifts frequently build their nests on manmade buildings and structures, though they might also nest in the sides of cliffs or in trees and shrubs. They occasionally will take over abandoned swallow nests, modifying them to suit their own needs. The nest of the little swift is bowl-shaped and somewhat disorderly, made of grass and feathers glued together with the bird’s saliva. Nests are almost always seen in colonies, some consisting of as many as 30 nests grouped together. Little swifts return to the same nesting site year after year.

The little swift mates for life and produces batches of one to three white eggs, which the parents take turns incubating. The eggs hatch in about 20-26 days, and the newborn chicks remain in the nest for another 35-40 days, after which they become fully independent. Some populations of little swifts remain in the same area throughout the year, but others are migratory and travel south during the winter.

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Often seen in flocks, the little swift spends much of its time at high altitudes, where it does a good deal of its hunting. Common prey includes insects such as termites, mantids, grasshoppers and dragonflies. Although it is a formidable predator of these small creatures, the little swift is in turn preyed upon by several species of falcons as well as at least one type of owl.

The name of the genus to which the Little Swift belongs, Apus, is derived from a Greek word meaning “without feet.” This is because their legs are very short, and they never alight on the ground, preferring to roost vertically on walls or cliffs. They even drink while in flight, swooping down to the water for a sip while flying instead of landing to take a drink. The little swift can be identified by its small size, fluttering style of flight and high chirping voice. Little swifts are sometimes also called house swifts, but the house swift is generally considered to be a separate — though closely related — species with a more easterly range.

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