Short-tailed Swifts

Photo WantedShort-tailed Swifts, Chaetura brachyura

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The Short-tailed Swift, Chaetura brachyura, is a common resident breeding bird on Trinidad, Tobago, Grenada and St Vincent, and in tropical South America from Panama, Colombia and the Guianas south to Ecuador, Peru and Brazil; in Brazil, the entire Amazon Basin, excluding much of the southeastern Basin.

It rarely occurs over 800 m ASL (Above mean Sea Level) even in the hottest parts of its range and in mountaineous or hilly terrain it inhabits, but has been recorded as high as 1,300 m ASL.

This small swift is found in a range of habitats including savanna, open woodland, and cultivation. It feeds in flight on flying insects, including winged ants and termites. It is very gregarious and forms communal roosts when not breeding. Predation by bats at the nest sites has been suspected.



The Short-tailed Swift is about 10.5 cm long, and weighs 20 g. It has long narrow wings, a robust body and a short tail. Males and females look alike. It is mainly black with a pale rump and tail. It can be distinguished from related species in its range, such as the Band-rumped Swift (C. spinicauda) or the Gray-rumped Swift (C. cinereiventris) by the lack of contrast between the rump and the tail, the latter being much darker in the other species.


Calls / Vocalizations

The flight call is a rapid chittering sti-sti-stew-stew-stew.


Nesting / Breeding

The nest is a 5 cm wide shallow half-saucer of twigs and saliva attached to a vertical surface. This is often a man-made structure like a chimney or manhole, as with its relative, the Chimney Swift (C. pelagica), but natural caves and tree cavities are also used.

Up to seven white eggs (average 3 or 4) are incubated by both parents for 17–18 days. The young leave the nest in a further two weeks, but remain near it, clinging to the cavity wall without flying, for another two weeks.


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