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White-backed Swallow

Cheramoeca leucosterna

The White-backed Swallow, known scientifically as Cheramoeca leucosterna, is a distinctive avian species endemic to the Australian continent. It is the sole representative of its genus, Cheramoeca, and is a member of the family Hirundinidae, which is renowned for its aerial feeding adaptations. This bird is easily recognized by its contrasting plumage: a pristine white back set against black wings and tail.

Identification Tips

An adult White-backed Swallow measures approximately 15 cm in length, which is consistent with the size of other swallows found across Australia. It sports a mottled grey cap above white eyebrows and a grey eye, with a dark stripe that extends from the lores across the nape. The bird's back and most of the breast are white, while the belly, wings, and tail are a stark black. Notably, it has a deeply forked tail and curved, pointed wings. The bill is short and black, and the legs and feet are a muted grey. Both sexes exhibit similar coloration, though juveniles display a somewhat duller hue.


The White-backed Swallow shows a preference for open grasslands and low shrubs, often seen gracefully maneuvering above these landscapes. During the breeding season, they exhibit a strong affinity for areas around creek beds, where the environment is conducive to their nesting habits.


This species is widely distributed across the southern part of Australia, extending up to the Tropic of Capricorn. After periods of inland rainfall, the White-backed Swallow's range may expand to cover the entire southern portion of the continent, including desert regions.


Insectivorous by nature, the White-backed Swallow captures its prey mid-flight, with dietary variations depending on the geographic region and season. Nesting involves the excavation of a horizontal tunnel into a vertical dirt cliff, a remarkable feat of natural engineering. Predators such as foxes and cats are known to threaten their nests.

Conservation Status

The White-backed Swallow is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN, with no immediate threats to its population. The species is reported to be common within its range, and its population is estimated to be increasing, possibly due to land clearance and mining activities that have expanded its habitat.

In summary, the White-backed Swallow is a bird of striking contrast and aerial agility, thriving in the open landscapes of Australia. Its conservation status reflects a species that, for now, is flourishing in its native environment.

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White-backed Swallows on Birda

A map showing the sighting location
Jake Morgan-Stead
01 May 2024 - 3:50am

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