Family Swifts (Apodidae)

Least Concern

Silver-backed Needletail (Hirundapus cochinchinensis)


French: Martinet de Cochinchine German: Graukehlsegler Spanish: Vencejo de la Cochinchina
Other common names: Rupchand's Needletail (rupchandi)

Chætura cochinchinensis


, 1878,

Saigon, Vietnam


Closely related to H. caudacutus, with which was in the past sometimes considered conspecific. Geographical variation very weakly defined: race rupchandi said to be slightly paler below though with darker throat than nominate#R, but poorly differentiated; formosanus, formerly placed in H. caudacutus, has been shown to be virtually identical to nominate race of present species and may be better treated as synonymous with it (grounds for racial split appear to be merely its isolated distribution). Single specimen from W Java, previously separated as form ernsti and treated variously as a distinct species or as a race of H. giganteus, now synonymized with nominate race of present species. Three subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • H. c. rupchandi (Biswas, 1951) – C Nepal; winters W Java, Sumatra and Peninsular Malaysia.
  • H. c. cochinchinensis (Oustalet, 1878) – NE India (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur and possibly Mizoram), N Myanmar and S China (Hainan), and scattered localities (status unclear) in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam; winters in Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and W Java.
  • H. c. formosanus (Yamashina, 1936) – Taiwan; wintering area unknown.
  • Descriptive notes

    20–22 cm; 76–86 g. Large swift with broad wings, short squarish tail with rectrix spines longest and strongest in centre and up to 6·5 mm beyond web, and... read more


    Similar to H. caudacutus. A high-pitched twittering, typically a few short notes followed... read more


    To 600 m in C lowlands of Nepal, most frequently over primary forest. Winters over variety of... read more

    Food and feeding

    Often encountered feeding over water on newly hatched insects, frequently with H. giganteus. Highly mobile and often seen in small... read more


    Nest unknown.


    Poorly understood. Occurs in Malaysia late Sept to mid-Apr, with presumed migration through SE Asia... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Believed to be common in Assam Hills, otherwise status little known. Race formosanus said to be uncommon; nominate race rare on Hainan.... read more

    Recommended citation

    Chantler, P. & Boesman, P. (2020). Silver-backed Needletail (Hirundapus cochinchinensis). 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 25 February 2020).