Family Swifts (Apodidae)

Least Concern

Madagascar Swift (Apus balstoni)


French: Martinet malgache German: Madagaskarsegler Spanish: Vencejo de Balston
Other common names: Malagasy Black Swift

Cypselus balstoni

E. Bartlett

, 1880,

Betsileo, Madagascar


Commonly treated as conspecific with A. barbatus, but “differs in appearance from the other races of A. barbatus by at least as much as do the other members of the superspecies [A. bradfieldi, A. sladeniae, A. berliozi]”#R, being (compared with barbatus) “smaller…, with blacker head and body, and smaller pale throat-patch with distinct dark streaks”#R; scoring not attempted but “strong molecular differentiation… against… A. barbatus#R adds evidence to support split. Two subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • A. b. mayottensis (Nicoll, 1906) – Comoro Is.
  • A. b. balstoni (E. Bartlett, 1880) – Madagascar.
  • Descriptive notes

    16 cm; male 49·5–51 g, female 38–46 g. Large, bulky swift, with broad blunt-tipped wings, short, well-forked tail and heavy body. Forehead dark greyish brown, becoming sooty... read more


    A high screaming trill is typical, rendered “zzzzziiieeewwww”, which falls at the end and lasts 1–2... read more


    Recorded over all manner of habitats throughout range, including urban areas, especially wet... read more

    Food and feeding

    Diet recorded as airborne insects, mostly small flies (Diptera), and beetles. Also appears at large emergences of winged termites (Isoptera... read more


    Season at least Sept–Nov on Madagascar (late dry to early wet season); possibly Sept in Comoros. Strong synchronicity in colonies.... read more


    Generally presumed to be resident and sedentary, but highly mobile with fluctuations in numbers... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Fairly common in NW Madagascar, with apparent breeding colonies involving hundreds of pairs in at least five areas of W... read more

    Recommended citation

    del Hoyo, J., Collar, N. & Kirwan, G.M. (2020). Madagascar Swift (Apus balstoni). 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 30 March 2020).