The African black swift or African swift (Apus barbatus) is 16-18 cm long and bulky like a pallid swift; it appears entirely blackish-brown except for a small white or pale grey patch on the chin which is not visible from a distance. It has a short forked tail and very long swept-back wings that resemble a crescent or a boomerang. This species is very similar to common swift but can be distinguished under optimum viewing conditions by the contrast between its black back and paler secondary wing feathers. The heavier build also gives it a distinctive flight action, which consisted of a steady level flight interspersed with short glides.


Habitat and Distribution

It breeds in Africa discontinuously from Liberia, Cameroon, Zaire, Uganda and Kenya south to South Africa, and on Madagascar. The breeding habitat is damp mountains, typically between 1,600 - 2,400 m, but less often at lower altitudes. This species feeds readily over lowland, and can form very large flocks, often with other gregarious swifts. The nominate South African subspecies is migratory, wintering further north.


Breeding

East African birds nest in hollow trees, whereas in South Africa this species uses cliffs, usually inland but also on the coast. The African black swift is a colonial breeder, sometimes forming mixed colonies with alpine swifts. The nest is a shallow grass cup glued to the substrate with saliva, and the typical clutch is one or two eggs.


Calls and Songs

The call is a loud double rasped hissing scream zzzzzzzZZZTT, dissimilar to that of its confusion species.