Family Swifts (Apodidae)

Least Concern

Brown-backed Needletail (Hirundapus giganteus)


French: Martinet géant German: Eilsegler Spanish: Vencejo gigante
Other common names: Brown-throated Needletail, Brown Needletail

Cypselus giganteus


, 1825,



Closely related to H. celebensis, and previously considered conspecific. Birds of Andamans intermediate between those of SW India and nominate giganteus, and probably represent a separate, undescribed race#R. Single specimen from W Java, described as form ernsti and treated variously as a species or as a race of present species, now included in nominate form of H. cochinchinensis. Two subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • H. g. indicus (A. O. Hume, 1873) – SW India (S from Goa) and Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh and NE India E into SE Asia; Andaman Is.
  • H. g. giganteus (Temminck, 1825) – Malay Peninsula, Greater Sundas, and SW Philippines (Palawan).
  • Descriptive notes

    21–26·5 cm; 123–167 g. Very large swift with broad wings, pinched in at body, broad protruding head and bulky hind-body, short tail with prominent rectrix... read more


    Similar to congeners. A high-pitched twittering, typically a few short notes followed by a trill.... read more


    In Thailand over a wide range of habitats, mainly in lowlands, to 1800 m. Prefers primary forest... read more

    Food and feeding

    Predominantly Coleoptera, Hemiptera, Orthoptera and Hymenoptera recorded for race indicus. Gregarious and often seen with other... read more


    Season Feb–Apr, Kerala, S India. Solitary nester. No nest construction recorded, but a depression is used or made in debris at base... read more


    Race indicus partial migrant, wintering in Malay Peninsula and probably Borneo; also... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Commonly encountered in suitable habitat. Deforestation with resultant loss of mature trees in which it nests indicates that... read more

    Recommended citation

    Chantler, P. & Boesman, P. (2019). Brown-backed Needletail (Hirundapus giganteus). 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 7 December 2019).