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Species Guide

African Black Swift

Apus barbatus

The African black swift, or Apus barbatus, is a medium-sized avian member of the swift family. Its plumage is predominantly blackish-brown, presenting an almost uniform coloration save for a subtle white or pale grey patch on the chin, which is generally not discernible from afar. The bird's silhouette is characterized by a short forked tail and remarkably long, swept-back wings that form a crescent or boomerang shape.

Identification Tips

Upon closer inspection, particularly under optimal viewing conditions, one may note a contrast between the swift's black back and the paler secondary feathers of its wings. The African black swift's robust build contributes to a distinctive flight pattern, which alternates between steady level flight and brief gliding phases.


The African black swift favors damp mountainous regions for breeding, typically at elevations ranging from 1,600 to 2,400 meters, though it may occasionally nest at lower altitudes. Despite its preference for highlands, it is known to feed over lowlands and can be observed in very large flocks, sometimes mingling with other sociable swift species.


This species has a discontinuous breeding range across Africa, from Liberia, Cameroon, Zaire, Uganda, and Kenya, extending southward to South Africa. The populations in Madagascar and the Comoros may be considered subspecies or even distinct species, known as the Malagasy black swift.


The South African subspecies of the African black swift is migratory, seeking warmer climates to the north during the winter. Other subspecies are more sedentary. The bird's movements are not fully understood, but it is suggested that some individuals may migrate to the mainland when not breeding.


Breeding habits vary by region; East African swifts often nest in hollow trees, while their South African counterparts prefer cliff faces, both inland and coastal. The African black swift is a colonial nester and may share colonies with alpine swifts. Nests are constructed as shallow grass cups, secured with saliva, and typically contain one or two eggs.

Song & Calls

The African black swift's vocalization is a distinctive, strident double-rasped, hissing scream, phonetically rendered as "zzzzzzzZZZTT." This call sets it apart from similar species.

Conservation status

The IUCN Red List categorizes the African black swift as Least Concern, indicating that, currently, there are no immediate threats to its population numbers that would warrant a higher level of concern.

African Black Swift Sounds

Recorded by: © 
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African Black Swifts on Birda


More Swifts

A photo of a Himalayan Swiftlet (Aerodramus brevirostris)

Himalayan Swiftlet

Aerodramus brevirostris
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