Family Swifts (Apodidae)

Least Concern

African Palm-swift (Cypsiurus parvus)


French: Martinet des palmes German: Palmensegler Spanish: Vencejo palmero africano

Cypselus parvus

M. H. C. Lichtenstein

, 1823,



Considered closely related to C. balasiensis, with which previously considered conspecific. Race gracilis (with griveaudi) may prove to be a distinct species, but NHMUK material suggests that morphological differences from African taxa are overstated in HBW and based on average (rather than absolute) values. Eight subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • C. p. parvus (M. H. C. Lichtenstein, 1823) – African Palm-swift – Senegambia E to Ethiopia, S to South Sudan; also SW Arabia.
  • C. p. brachypterus (Reichenow, 1903) – Sierra Leone E to NE DRCongo, S to Angola; islands in Gulf of Guinea.
  • C. p. myochrous (Reichenow, 1886) – South Sudan S (mainly in highlands) through L Victoria Basin to Zimbabwe, E Botswana and NE South Africa.
  • C. p. laemostigma (Reichenow, 1905) – coastal lowlands from S Somalia S to C Mozambique.
  • C. p. hyphaenes Brooke, 1972 – N Namibia and N Botswana.
  • C. p. celer Clancey, 1983 – S Mozambique and E South Africa (to S KwaZulu-Natal).
  • C. p. griveaudi Benson, 1960 – Comoro Is.
  • C. p. gracilis (Sharpe, 1871) – Madagascar Palm-swift – Madagascar.
  • Descriptive notes

    16 cm (including tail of up to 9 cm); 10–18·1 g. Highly distinctive jizz and helter-skelter flight action (on rapid fluttering wingbeats) should separate this... read more


    Vocalizes frequently, mainly a rapid, reedy-sounding chatter, “si-si-si-soo-soo”, with variants,... read more


    Always contains palms, particularly fan palms, on which depends largely for nest-sites, though... read more

    Food and feeding

    Recorded contents from 32 stomachs: flies (17), ants (6), termites (4), beetles (3), c. 100 winged termites (1), and many small ants (1).... read more


    Over much of range breeds year-round, though mainly in warmer months. Laying dates: May–Aug, Senegambia; Sept–Oct and Jun,... read more


    Resident over much of range, but present only during summer in most southerly breeding area in... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Common to locally abundant, e.g. considered to be commonest breeding swift in Zambia. In Kenya commonest on coastal strip and far... read more

    Recommended citation

    Chantler, P. & Kirwan, G.M. (2020). African Palm-swift (Cypsiurus parvus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 20 February 2020).