Little Swift, Layang Layang Rumah
Having adapted well to humans, noisy House Swifts are commonly seen
House Swifts feed on flying insects: mainly flying ants and termites
(about 60%); bees and wasps (20%) and beetles. They also go for other
titbits that they can snatch on the wing (spiders).
House Swifts trawl the air for flying prey. They have a thick fringe
of eyelash-like feathers to protect the eyes in case of mid-air collisions
with insects, and have transparent eye membranes which keep their
vision clear as they blink, like windshield wipers.
Compared to Swallows, House Swifts rarely target a particular prey
and simply hawk for insects. They forage at higher altitudes than
Swallows: about 200m above the forest canopy, or 100m above open ground.
House swifts are found mostly in open habitats suited for this foraging
method. Gregarious birds, they roost and forage in flocks and can
be very noisy.
and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
features: Small (15cm), all black with prominent
white rump; throat white; wings long, slender, scimitar-
shaped; tail square not deeply forked, appears rounded
when fanned. Genders look alike.
Juvenile: head and body narrowly
grey-fringed; flight feathers finely edged in white.
Call: Described as loud,
staccato twittering or shrill screaming especially at
roosts before settling down and at dawn before dispersing,
and during nesting.
In flight: Rapid shallow
flapping interspersed with gliding; wings held away from
the body. Frequently soars. White rump shows clearly.
Status in Singapore: Very
common resident throughout the island, including North
and South offshore islands.
World distribution: South
Europe through Africa to the Philippines. Swifts are not
found in Australia, New Zealand and southernmost South
Similar birds: Swallows:
Fly with wings held close to the body, many with regular
wing beats. Barn Swallow
(Hirundo rustica) has long tail streamers. Fork-tailed
Swift (Aplonis pacificus) a migrant, is larger,
all black, tail longer and deeply forked.
Classification: Family Apodidae.
Worldwide 99 species, Singapore 9.
spend most of their lives on the wing, spending all day flying and
roosting only at night. They even drink on the fly, taking sips as
they zip over the water. The European Swift even mates and sleeps
in flight, touching down only to lay eggs.
fly higher when it's
fine and sunny
and lower when it's cloudy
Their Malay name Layang Layang which means "kite",
is appropriate for these constantly airborne birds. In fact, Swifts can't
perch because their feet are small and weak. Some may even have difficulty
taking flight again if they land on the ground. They
rest on vertical surfaces hanging on with their strong sharp claws. Their
hind toe is reversible, giving them a good grip. From these vertical roosts,
they simply let go to launch back into flight.
Breeding: House Swifts nests in small
colonies, building their nests close to each other on sheer vertical surfaces.
In the wild, they make their nests on limestone cliffs, but they have adapted
to human constructions and now colonise buildings, jetties and bridges;
including those in busy urban areas. They look for nooks and crannies where
the nest will be protected from the sun and rain.
almost everything else they do, House Swifts gather nesting material
on the wing. These include grass, pine needles, feathers, even bits
of paper or string. These are glued together with mud and saliva.
Their salivary glands enlarge during the breeding season to produce
large quantities of this "glue". The nest is saucer-shaped
or bulbous, untidy and rough on the outside, but smooth and unlined
on the inside. They may reuse the same nest site.
The Palm Swift (Cypsiurus parvus) of Asia glues its eggs
to a tiny, flat nest made on a palm leaf that hangs vertically or
even upside down!
as a ... Swift!
are among the fastest birds in the world, reaching speeds of up
to 110 km/hour. Their long wings result in a low ratio of body mass
to wing area, making them about 70% more efficient fliers than other
birds of the same size.
white eggs are laid. The chicks cling to the nest and are fed regurgitated
insects. Upon taking their first flight, the young fly as swiftly
and acrobatically as their parents.
Migration: House Swifts do not
appear to migrate. But they do move over long distances from their
preferred vertical roosting or nesting sites to foraging sites on
and threats: House Swifts are not at risk in Singapore as they
have adapted well to humans. In fact, they get their name for their close
association with human habitation. Swifts play an important role in controlling
their insect prey. Although the House Swift is not threatened by collection
of their nest, their cousins elsewhere are threatened by unsustainable harvesting
of their edible nests, which are considered a delicacy. With proper control
and respect for the birds' breeding cycles, it is possible to sustainably
harvest their nests. But illegal poaching is threatening their existence.
- Morten Strange,
"A Photographic Guide to Birds of Malaysia and Singapore: including
Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Borneo", Periplus, 2000
(p. 172: description, voice, habits, distribution, status, photo).
- David R Wells,
"The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula: Vol. 1 (Non-Passarines)",
Academic Press, 1999 (p. 470-472: identification, distribution map,
habits, habitat, migration, conservation).
- Morten Strange,
"Birds of Southeast Asia: A photographic guide to the birds
of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia",
New Holland, 1998 (p. 39: photo, facts).
- Lim Kim Seng and
Dana Gardner, "Birds: An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds
of Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing Ltd., 1997 (p. 41-42: identification,
status in Singapore, distribution, diagram, number of species).
- G W H Davison
and Chew Yen Fook, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Peninsular
Malaysia and Singapore", New Holland Publishers Ltd., 1995
(p. 57: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, photo).
- Morten Strange
and Allen Jeyarajasingam, "Birds: A Photographic Guide to the
Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing,
1993 (p. 51: description, distribution, habits, habitat, photo).
- Clive Briffett,
"A Guide to the Common Birds of Singapore", BP Science
Centre,1992 (p. 77: habit, habitat).
- Christopher Hails,
"Birds of Singapore" illustrated by Frank Jarvis, Times
Editions, 1987 reprinted 1995 (p. 101: habits, description, status in
Singapore, and lovely drawings of the birds).
- Lim Kim Seng,
"Vanishing Birds of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore),
1992 (p. 10: status in Singapore).
- Lim Kim Seng,
"Pocket Checklist of the Birds of the Republic of Singapore",
Nature Society (Singapore), 1999 (Abundance, status, Chinese and Malay
- M W F Tweedie,
"Common Birds of the Malay Peninsula", Longman,1970
(p. 26: description, distribution, habits, habitat, drawing).
- G C Madoc, "An
Introduction to Malayan Birds", Malayan Nature Society, 1947
(p. 89-90: description, habits, habitat).
- Sir John A S Bucknill
and E N Chasen, "Birds of Singapore and South-East Asia",
Tynron Press, 1927, edition 1990 (p. 136-137: identification, status
in Singapore, distribution, field notes on habits, drawings).
- Prof. Dr. Yong
Hoi Sen (ed.), "The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Animals";
Swifts and Swiftlets by Leh Moi Ung, Editions Didier Millet, 1998 (p.
48-49: habits, habitat, about commercial bird's nest trade)
- Dr. Harold G Cogger
(et. al), "Encyclopedia of Animals"; Swifts and Hummingbirds
by Charles T. Collins, Weldon Owen, 1993 (p. 354-356).
- John Palmer (ed.),
"Exploring the Secrets of Nature", Reader's Digest,
1994 (p. 185: about their adaptations to swift flight).