Family Swifts (Apodidae)

Least Concern

Mottled Spinetail (Telacanthura ussheri)


French: Martinet d’Ussher German: Baobabsegler Spanish: Vencejo de baobab
Other common names: Mottled Spine-tailed Swift

Chætura ussheri


, 1870,



It has been suggested that present species might be better treated as two on account of differences in plumage, structure and habitat, but precise dividing line unclear. Proposed race marwitzi, known only from type specimen (from Wemberere steppe, in Tanzania), believed to represent aberrant individual of race stictilaema. Four subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • T. u. ussheri (Sharpe, 1870) – Senegambia E, discontinuously, to Nigeria.
  • T. u. sharpei (Neumann, 1908) – S Cameroon to Gabon, and DRCongo E to Uganda.
  • T. u. stictilaema (Reichenow, 1879) – Kenya and NE & C Tanzania, including Zanzibar and Pemba.
  • T. u. benguellensis (Neumann, 1908) – W Angola; S Zambia and S Malawi S to E Zimbabwe, S Mozambique and extreme NE South Africa.
  • Descriptive notes

    14 cm; male 33 g, female 34·5 g. Medium-sized spinetail with typical spinetail "butter-knife" wing shape, with hooked outer wing, bulging inner primaries... read more


    Rather silent. Commonest call is a repeated rhythmic, chattering “titititititi-rrit....titititititi... read more


    A lowland species over much of range, though recorded to 2200 m in E Africa and 900 m in Zambia.... read more

    Food and feeding

    Winged ants and small numbers of flies, termites and Hymenoptera. Highly mobile when foraging and often seen only fleetingly. Typically in... read more


    Breeds Transvaal Apr–May; enlarged gonads Zaire Jan and Jul–Aug, Cameroon Feb, Kenya Feb and Apr, Uganda Mar and Sept;... read more


    Resident throughout much of range, yet some seasonal movements recorded. Occurs in SW Mt Kenya... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Status varies throughout range. Most abundant in parts of E & C Africa, rarest in limited S African range, where it is thought that protection of... read more

    Recommended citation

    Chantler, P. & Boesman, P. (2018). Mottled Spinetail (Telacanthura ussheri). 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 17 November 2018).