Family Swifts (Apodidae)

Least Concern

White-throated Needletail (Hirundapus caudacutus)


French: Martinet épineux German: Stachelschwanzsegler Spanish: Vencejo mongol
Other common names: Needle-tailed Swift

Hirundo caudacuta


, 1801,

New South Wales, Australia


Closely related to H. cochinchinensis, with which was in the past sometimes considered conspecific. Taxon formosanus formerly placed in present species, but has been shown to be virtually identical to nominate race of H. cochinchinensis, to which it clearly belongs (see that species). Himalayan form nudipes differs from nominate caudacutus apparently in migratory habits, and in having all-dark lores and blue-glossed (not green-glossed) upperparts, suggesting considerable distinctiveness; specimens in NHMUK from China, however, appear intermediate, having white lores and blue-glossed upperparts. Proposed race bourreti (from Laos, where a presumed passage migrant) is indistinguishable from nominate. Two subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • H. c. caudacutus (Latham, 1801) – White-throated Needletail – C Siberia E to Sakhalin and Kuril Is, S to N & E Mongolia, NE China, Korea and Japan; winters in S New Guinea and E Australia.
  • H. c. nudipes (Hodgson, 1837) – Himalayan Needletail – Himalayan foothills irregularly from N Pakistan E to Assam, Arunachal Pradesh through N Myanmar to S China (Sichuan S to Yunnan); wintering area not well documented, possibly includes Malay Peninsula and Java.
  • Descriptive notes

    19–20 cm; male 109–140 g, female 101–125 g. Graceful and powerful flight, with slow purposeful turns, much gliding and soaring, and capable of sustained... read more


    Rapid, insect-like chattering (softer than Apus screams), “trp-trp-trp-trp-trp-trp...”, of... read more


    In N of range, wooded lowlands and sparsely vegetated hills. In Himalayas at 1250–4000 m,... read more

    Food and feeding

    Coleoptera, Hemiptera and Hymenoptera recorded for race nudipes. Wintering birds in New South Wales, Australia, recorded feeding... read more


    Gravid female nudipes collected in mid Apr in N Cachar, N India; laying late May to early Jun in Siberia and Japan. Breeds... read more


    Nominate race a long-distance migrant. Himalayan race nudipes may be resident or perhaps... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Race nudipes local and uncommon throughout most of range, though fairly common in Bhutan. Nominate race becomes commoner... read more

    Recommended citation

    Chantler, P. & Kirwan, G.M. (2020). White-throated Needletail (Hirundapus caudacutus). 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 23 February 2020).