Tachymarptis melbaalpine swift

Geographic Range

The Alpine Swift can be found throughout southern Europe, from Portugal to Bulgaria, and throughout all of Africa. In Europe, its main breeding area extends northward from Greece, ending just short of Germany. It is also vagrant to the British Isles and some parts of central and northern Europe. (Peterson et al. 1993, Harrison and Greensmith 1993)


The Alpine Swift usually resides in high, rocky, mountainous areas, but the rocky regions of sea cliffs are also an acceptable habitat for the swift. It can also be found living among the old buildings of a town or city. (Bologna 1978, Peterson et al. 1993)

Physical Description

With a length of 21 centimeters and a wingspan of 53 centimeters, Tachymarptis melba is the largest known swift. It is thick-set with a short, forked tail. The plumage on its back is umber-brown, while its throat and belly are white. A dark pectoral band is also visible. (Peterson et al. 1993, Bologna 1978)


The Alpine Swift rears its young in a cup-shaped nest. This nest is usually built of feathers, fibers, sticks, plant down, and moss. The swift's saliva is used as the glue that holds the nest together. The nest is usually glued to the vertical surfaces of rock cracks and the eaves of houses, with the saliva once again serving as the glue. The swift will lay a single clutch of one to four eggs, though three is the usual number. Both parents incubate the eggs for eighteen to thirty-three days. The nestlings are hatched naked, and they are reared for another six to ten weeks, not leaving the nest until they have acquired adult plumage. (Bologna 1978, Encyclopedia Britannica 1999, Gilliard 1967)


Alpine Swifts are very social animals, building their nests in colonies. They will usually be found in large groups as they fly around the colony's nesting region. They are also very skilled fliers, and in fact have very weak legs. They beat their wings slowly, at a rate of four to eight beats per second, but powerfully. The wing-beats are audible to a person if they are close to the bird as it flies. The outline of its flight is also rather bulky, similar to that of a small falcon. Swifts in general are the fastest of the small birds, reaching speeds of 110 kilometers per hour, and the Alpine Swift is the fastest known swift. Some larger falcons tend to prey upon them regularly, but that is its only known avian predator. (Bologna 1978, Encyclopedia Britannica 1999, Peterson et al. 1993)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

The Alpine Swift feeds exclusively on insects that it catches while in flight. While feeding, it courses back and forth with its huge mouth open, collecting the insects in its path. It will feed indiscriminately on any flying insects that it can get into its mouth. (Bologna 1978, Encyclopedia Britannica 1999)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

By feeding exclusively on insects, the Alpine Swift reduces the number of these pests that are irritating or harmful to humans. (Bologna 1978)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

The Alpine Swift will sometimes nest in the eaves of houses. This can create an annoyance for most homeowners, and it could cause some damage to the house as well. These nests can also be viewed by some people as an eyesore to the neighborhood. (Bologna 1978)

Conservation Status


Jeff Gour (author), Milford High School, George Campbell (editor), Milford High School.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

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.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


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.


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).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

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


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


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


uses touch to communicate


uses sight to communicate


Bologna, G. 1978. Simon and Schuster’s Guide to Birds. New York: Simon and Schuster Publications.

Encyclopedia Britannica, 1999. "Swift" (On-line). Accessed 1-20-01 at http://www.britannica.com/.

Gilliard, E. 1967. Living Birds of the World. New York: Doubleday and Company.

Harrison, C., A. Greensmith. 1993. Birds of the World. New York: Dorling Kindersley Inc..

Peterson, R., G. Mountfort, P. Hollom. 1993. Birds of Britain and Europe. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.