White-throated Needletail

Did you know?

White-throated Needletails are able to fly at great speeds of up to 130 km per hour.

Facts and Figures
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Breeding season: 
May to August.
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Basic Information
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What does it look like?

This large swift has long curved wings and white markings. The plumage of the White-throated Needletail is predominantly grey-brown, glossed with green and the wings are long and pointed. The tail is short and square, with the protruding feather shafts giving a spiky appearance. The throat and undertail are white. It was formerly known as the Spine-tailed Swift, but it is now placed in its own genus. It is also sometimes known as the Storm-bird or Stormbird.

Similar species: 

This large swift is often mistaken in flight for a small predatory bird, but its long curved wings and white markings should identify it. The Fork-tailed Swift, Apus pacificus, is smaller (17 cm - 21 cm), and, although it has a dusky white rump and throat, it is otherwise uniform dark grey, with a long forked tail.

Where does it live?

White-throated Needletails often occur in large numbers over eastern and northern Australia.


White-throated Needletails are aerial birds and for a time it was commonly believed that they did not land while in Australia. It has now been observed that birds will roost in trees, and radio-tracking has since confirmed that this is a regular activity.

Seasonal movements: 

White-throated Needletails arrive in Australia from their breeding grounds in the northern hemisphere in about October each year and leave somewhere between May and August.

What does it do?

The White-throated Needletail feeds on flying insects, such as termites, ants, beetles and flies. They catch the insects in flight in their wide gaping beaks. Birds usually feed in rising thermal currents associated with storm fronts and bushfires and they are commonly seen moving with wind fronts. While feeding, the White-throated Needletail protects its eyes with a special membrane and a small ridge of feathers. The birds also drink in flight.


White-throated Needletails are non-breeding migrants in Australia. Breeding takes place in northern Asia. The eggs are laid on a platform sticks placed in a hollow or similar crevice high in a tall conifer. Little else is known of the breeding behaviour of this species except that courtship displays consist of a series of vertical flights and that copulation is believed to take place in flight.

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