Hemiprocnidaecrested swifts


Treeswifts are in the order Apodiformes. There are three families within this order: Hemiprocnidae (treeswifts), Apodidae (true swifts) and Trochilidae (hummingbirds). Treeswifts also belong to the suborder Apodi. There is one genus of treeswifts and 4 species. The four species are: grey-rumped treeswift (Hemiprocne longipennis), crested treeswift (Hemiprocne coronata), whiskered treeswift (Hemiprocne comata) and moustached treeswift (Hemiprocne mystacea).

Treeswifts are insectivores and catch the majority of their prey while flying. Unlike their close relatives, true swifts, treeswifts are able to perch, are not very social and have more ornate coloring (some species have bold white striping on their heads). Treeswifts also have crests on their heads and are easy to identify when perched because of their long crossed wing-tips and deeply forked tail.

They are monogamous and both males and females provide parental care. In-flight copulation has been recorded. Although they occur throughout much of the Oriental region, little is known about the Hemiprocnidae family. (Chantler and Driessens, 2000; Wells, 1999)

Geographic Range

Treeswifts are found throughout the Oriental Region (East to the Solomon Islands) and in some of the Australian region. (Chantler and Driessens, 2000; ; Wells, 1999)


Treeswifts are tropical terrestrial forest birds and are found in evergreen forest, deciduous forest and mature mangrove stands. They require stretches of continuous forest, but can make use of areas with breaks in the canopy (for example, roads and rivers) and some edge habitat. They are found from lower elevations up to 2000 m. (Chantler and Driessens, 2000; ; Smythies, 2001; Wells, 1999)

Physical Description

Grey-rumped (Hemiprocne longipennis) and crested (Hemiprocne coronata) treeswifts have glossy, primarily grey plumage with a forehead crest that is 2.5 to 3 cm tall. Both males and females have crests that they raise when perched. Both whiskered treeswifts (Hemiprocne comata), the smallest member of the genus and moustached treeswifts (Hemiprocne mystacea), the largest treeswifts, have a slight crest and a bold face pattern with white stripes along the side of the head. Sexes of all species may differ in coloration on the head.

Treeswifts have a short bill and a broad gape and are typically 15 to 31 cm long. They have large eyes that may help them forage into late evening when the light is low. Unlike true swifts (Apodidae), treeswifts are able to perch, they are easy to identify when perched because of their long crossed wing-tips and deeply forked tail. Their long outer streamers allow for increased manoeuvrability while foraging. Like typical swifts, treeswifts have a long manus and primary feathers.

Juveniles have cryptic head and body plumage that they lose during the first moult after fledging. (Chantler and Driessens, 2000; Smythies, 1999; Smythies, 2001; Wells, 1999)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • ornamentation


Treeswifts are monogamous; both males and females provide parental care. Breeding pairs will defend nest sites against intruders. No male display flights have been recorded. (Chantler and Driessens, 2000; ; Wells, 1999)

Treeswifts have a long breeding season that occurs during the spring and summer. Both males and females take part in nest building; nests are made of bark, feathers and bryophyte held together with saliva. Nests are half-saucer shaped and from 25 to 40 mm in diameter (just big enough to hold one egg) they are usually placed on exposed branches in the forest canopy (4 to 30 m in height). Because nests are so small adults must perch on a branch and straddle the nest while incubating; nestlings outgrow the nest rapidly and will move out of the nest and perch on a nearby branch while waiting to be fed.

Both in-flight copulation and copulation on a perch have been recorded in treeswifts. Clutch size is one and eggs are plain white or pale grey. Crested treeswift (Hemiprocne coronata) eggs are 23 to 26 by 15.5 to 19 mm, grey-rumped treeswift (Hemiprocne longipennis) eggs are 23 to 24.5 by 17 to 18 mm, whiskered treeswift (Hemiprocne comata) eggs are 12 by 15 mm and moustached treeswift (Hemiprocne mystacea) eggs are 30 by 20mm. Females spend two to three times more time incubating than males. There are no exact measurements of incubation and nestling periods. However, during one observation of whiskered swifts chicks hatched on or before day 21, fledged on day 28 and continued to be fed by adults for another three weeks. Estimates for moustached swifts suggest that incubation and nesting periods together last more than 60 days. Young chicks are brooded for an unknown period of time after hatching.

Chicks are altricial with grey skin and some grey down. Juvenile plumage is cryptic and is lost during moult after fledging. (Chantler and Driessens, 2000; ; Mead, 1985; Smythies, 2001; Wells, 1999)

Both male and female treeswifts are involved in parental care, although females incubate two to three times more than males. Treeswift chicks are altricial. The length of the nestling period is not known, but chicks may be fed for three weeks after fledging. Adults brood chicks for an unknown amount of time after hatching. Chicks are fed “food balls” containing insects. (Chantler and Driessens, 2000; ; Mead, 1985; Smythies, 2001; Wells, 1999)


The lifespan of treeswifts is unknown; however, most small birds live only two to five years. (Gill, 1995)


Unlike true swifts (Apodidae), treeswifts are generally not social, although they will sometimes forage in small groups and they become more social at the end of the breeding season. Grey-rumped treeswifts (Hemiprocne longipennis) will roost communally (roosts of about 50 individuals have been seen) in winter and return to the same roost each year.

Adult swifts are territorial, but it is not known how they defend territories. Juveniles leave adult territories soon after fledging. Treeswifts are not migratory, although they will make local nomadic trips or shift seasonally.

Treeswifts have highly manoeuvrable, fast flight and often behave more like flycatchers than swifts when foraging; they will intermittently dart out from their perch to catch airborne insects. They nest in the open and choose high, exposed perches.

In general, very little is known about treeswift behavior beyond short anecdotes. (Chantler and Driessens, 2000; ; Smythies, 1999; Wells, 1999)

Communication and Perception

Calls are used for communication between pairs while flying or perched. Treeswifts calls have been described as a squeal, with a few syllables grouped together to form a disyllabic or trisyllabic call. Treeswifts can also raise the crest of feathers on their head, a gesture assumed to be a form of communication. Large eyes help treeswifts navigate while feeding at dusk and dawn. (; Wells, 1999)

Food Habits

Treeswifts are insectivores, they catch their prey while in-flight (hawking) or they glean insects from foliage. Treeswifts drink by flying near the surface of water with an open mouth. They are often crepuscular (feed at dawn or dusk). Treeswifts hunt opportunistically and frequently feed on Hymenoptera (bees, wasps and ants), Diptera (true flies), Hemiptera (true bugs), Isoptera (termites) and Coleoptera (beetles).

Treeswifts will not travel as far to feed as true swifts (Apodidae) and instead of doing all hunting on the wing, they will perch in an open place and dart from their perch to catch aerial insects. The birds’ large gape and manoeuvrable flight help them to catch their prey. They also have bristles around their mouths that may help them trap insects as they fly. (Chantler and Driessens, 2000; ; Smythies, 1999; Smythies, 2001; Wells, 1999)


The only confirmed predators of treeswifts are Asian falconets (Microhierax), although there are almost certainly additional predators (snakes (Serpentes), for example, are likely predators). Nest placement on the end of a thin branch is thought to aid treeswifts in the detection of climbing predators. Nests and juvenile plumage are cryptic. Groups of treeswifts will mob predators as they approach. (; Wells, 1999)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

As insectivores, treeswifts affect insect populations throughout their range.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Treeswifts are hunted as a food source for humans. Because they are insectivores, treeswifts are also important agents in pest control. (; Wells, 1999)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse affects of treeswifts on humans.

Conservation Status

The IUCN lists no treeswifts as endangered or vulnerable and none are listed by CITES. Because treeswifts use forest edge they may benefit to some degree from disturbance and fragmentation. However, they do rely on large tracts of contiguous forest and could be adversely affected if too much of their habitat is lost. Grey-rumped treeswift (Hemiprocne longipennis) numbers are thought to be declining as a result of increases in hunting and pesticide use (that decreases the number of available prey). It is also important to note that little is known about the four species of treeswifts, so it may be difficult to accurately assess the status of their populations. ("UNEP-WCMC Species Database: CITES-Listed Species", 2003; ; IUCN, 2002; Wells, 1999)

  • IUCN Red List [Link]
    Not Evaluated


Alaine Camfield (author), Animal Diversity Web.

Kari Kirschbaum (editor), Animal Diversity Web.



Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


active at dawn and dusk


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

sexual ornamentation

one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


2003. "UNEP-WCMC Species Database: CITES-Listed Species" (On-line). Accessed November 14, 2003 at http://www.cites.org/eng/resources/species.html.

Chantler, P., G. Driessens. 2000. Swifts: A guide to the swifts and treeswifts of the world, Second Edition. Sussex: Pica Press.

Gill, F. 1995. Ornithology, Second Edition. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.

IUCN, 2002. "The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Accessed October 10, 2003 at http://www.redlist.org/.

Mead, C. 1985. Swifts. Pp. 254-257 in C Perrins, A Middleton, eds. The Encyclopedia of Birds. New York: Facts on File, Inc.

Payne, R. 2003. "Bird Families of the World" (On-line). Accessed October 10, 2003 at http://www.ummz.lsa.umich.edu/birds/Bird_Families_of_the_World.html.

Sibley, C., J. Ahlquist. 1990. Phylogeny and Classification of Birds, A study in Molecular Evolution. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Smythies, B. 1999. The Birds of Borneo, Fourth Edition. Kota Kinabalu: Natural History Publications (Borneo).

Smythies, B. 2001. The Birds of Burma, Fourth Edition. Kota Kinabalu: Natural History Publications (Borneo).

Wells, D. 1999. Family Hemiprocnidae. J del Hoyo, A Elliott, S Jordi, eds. Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 5. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.