Unsorted Wild Birds

Plain Swifts

The Plain Swifts (Apus unicolor) is a medium-sized swift. Although this bird is superficially similar to a Barn Swallow or House Martin, it is not related to those passerine species. The resemblances between the groups are due to convergent evolution reflecting similar lifestyles.

Swifts have very short legs that they use only for clinging to vertical surfaces. They never settle voluntarily on the ground, and spend most of their lives in the air, feeding on insects that they catch in their beaks. They drink on the wing.

Distribution / Breeding

Plain Swifts breed in colonies on cliffs, bridges, and buildings on the Canary Islands and Madeira, laying two eggs in a saucer-shaped nest made of flowerheads glued with saliva.

They are partially migratory, with some birds leaving for winter in northwest Africa.


This 14-15 cm long species is very similar to the closely related Common and Pallid Swifts, which also occur in the archipelagos, and separation is only possible with good views. Like its relatives, it has a short forked tail and very long swept-back wings that resemble a crescent or a boomerang.

It is entirely dark except for an indistinct pale throat patch. It is slimmer and rakish than the Pallid Swift, and is darker than that species, and lacks the obvious white throat.

Distinguishing the Plain Swifts from the similarly plumaged Common Swift is much more difficult, although the juvenile Common can be easily eliminated due to its white throat. The Plain is slimmer and appears longer winged than the Common, and has scaly underparts, difficult to see except with excellent views. The call is a loud dry scream similar to that of the Common Swift, though possibly higher pitched.


  • BirdLife International (2004). Apus unicolor. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 2006. Retrieved on 11 May 2006. Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
  • Swifts by Chantler and Driessens, ISBN 1-873403-83-6



Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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