Family Swifts (Apodidae)

Least Concern

African Swift (Apus barbatus)


French: Martinet du Cap German: Kapsegler Spanish: Vencejo de El Cabo
Other common names: African Black Swift

Cypselus barbatus

P. L. Sclater

, 1866,

Cape of Good Hope, South Africa


Recent molecular phylogeny#R placed this species in a clade with A. niansae, A. bradfieldi, A. berliozi, A. unicolor, A. alexandri, A. pallidus and A. apus. Generally thought to be closest to A. bradfieldi, A. berliozi and A. pallidus. Has been considered conspecific with A. apus and also with A. niansae and A. unicolor. Frequently (as in HBW) considered to include A. sladeniae as a race (but see below); commonly includes also A. balstoni (see below). It has been suggested that race hollidayi, if it remains a distinct breeding population despite presence of migratory nominate race during local breeding season, may prove to be a separate species. Current knowledge about taxonomic status of glanvillei and serlei to some extent compromised by scarcity of specimens; racial identity of population resident in N Liberia unknown, but may prove to be A. sladeniae. Six subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • A. b. glanvillei Benson, 1967 – Sierra Leone and possibly adjacent Liberia and Ivory Coast; small breeding population discovered in Ghana perhaps extends to adjacent Togo#R.
  • A. b. serlei de Roo, 1970 – W Cameroon (Bamenda).
  • A. b. roehli Reichenow, 1906 – NE Uganda and Kenya to Malawi and E DRCongo; also NE Angola (Sombo). Unconfirmed records from SE Ethiopia#R.
  • A. b. hollidayi Benson & Irwin, 1960 – Victoria Falls, on Zambia–Zimbabwe border.
  • A. b. oreobates Brooke, 1970 – E Zimbabwe (Melsettwe to Mashonaland) and Mt Gorongoza (Mozambique).
  • A. b. barbatus (P. L. Sclater, 1866) – South Africa (and may occur W into mountainous areas of Namibia); wintering grounds unknown.
  • Descriptive notes

    16 cm; 35–50 g. Large, bulky swift, with broad blunt-tipped wings, short, shallowly forked tail and heavy body; black underparts with whitish throat-patch; black outer... read more


    Most common call is a shrill, piercing, buzzy scream “pzzeeeeerrr”. Similar to A. apus,... read more


    Primarily in moist mountains, typically breeding at 1600–2400 m, less often at 1000 m and... read more

    Food and feeding

    Beetles, ants, spiders, lepidopterans, termites, thysanopterans and bees recorded; c. 12 beetles 8 mm long found in one stomach. Only... read more


    Laying Malawi Aug–Sept, Zimbabwe Sept, South Africa Sept–Feb; in E Africa breeding correlated with cool dry season, mid-year,... read more


    Nominate race present as breeder in South Africa Aug to mid-May, with presumed migration through... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. All three W African races are known from only a small number of specimens, and the species is generally considered to be an uncommon to rare resident... read more

    Recommended citation

    Chantler, P., Boesman, P. & Kirwan, G.M. (2020). African Swift (Apus barbatus). 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 18 February 2020).