Species Profile and Threats Database

For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed marine
Listed migratory - CAMBA, JAMBA, ROKAMBA
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
List of Migratory Species (13/07/2000) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000b) [Legislative Instrument].
Declaration under section 248 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of Marine Species (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000c) [Legislative Instrument].
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - Listed Migratory Species - Approval of an International Agreement (Commonwealth of Australia, 2007h) [Legislative Instrument].
Non-statutory Listing Status
IUCN: Listed as Least Concern (Global Status: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: 2013.1 list)
Scientific name Apus pacificus [678]
Family Apodidae:Apodiformes:Aves:Chordata:Animalia
Species author (Latham,1802)
Infraspecies author  
Distribution map Species Distribution Map

This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.

Illustrations Google Images

Scientific name: Apus pacificus

Common name: Fork-tailed Swift

Other names: Australian Swift, Migrant Swift, Pacific Swift, White-belted Swift, Large White-rumped Swift, Siberian White-rumped Swift, White-rumped Swift, New Holland Swallow, Rainbird or Rain-brother.

The Fork-tailed Swift is polytypic, meaning more then one subspecies exists (del Hoyo 1996):

  • The nominate species, Apus pacificus pacificus, is found in south Siberia, north Mongolia, north China and Japan. The species migrates to south-east Asia and Australia.
  • The subspecies Apus pacificus kanoi is found from south-east Tibet through to south China and Taiwan.
  • The subspecies Apus pacificus leuconyx is found in the outer Himalayas and India.
  • The subspecies Apus pacificus cooki is found from east Burma to the Malay Peninsula.

The Fork-tailed Swift is a medium to large member of the Apodidae Family. It has a length of 18–21 cm, a wingspan of 40–42 cm and weighs around 30–40 g. It is a medium-sized Swift, with a slim body with long scythe-shaped wings that taper to finely pointed tips. It is characterized by a long and deeply forked tail. It is smaller and slimmer than the White-throated Needletail, Hirundapus caudacutus, with much narrower wings and a longer, more deeply forked tail. It is much bigger than Swiftlets with much longer wings and a lower forked tail. The Fork-tailed Swift is mainly blackish with a white band across the rump. There is also a white patch on the chin and throat. The body, tail and upperwings are black-brown and they have a faint pale scaling to the saddle and white scalloping to the underbody. The sexes are alike with no seasonal variation, juveniles are also indistinguishable in the field (Higgins 1999).

The Fork-tailed Swift is a non-breeding visitor to all states and territories of Australia (Higgins 1999).

There are scattered records of the Fork-tailed Swift in the Gulf Country, and a few records on Cape York Peninsula. In the north-east region there are many records east of the Great Divide from near Cooktown and south to Townsville. They are also widespread but scattered in coastal areas from 20° S, south to Brisbane and in much of the south south-eastern region. They are more widespread west of the Great Divide, and are commonly found west of the line joining Chinchilla and Hughenden. They are found to the west between Richmond and Winton, Longreach, Gowan Range, Maraila National Park and Dirranbandi. They are rarely found further west to Windorah and Thargomindah (Higgins 1999).

In NSW, the Fork-tailed Swift is recorded in all regions. Many records occur east of the Great Divide, however, a few populations have been found west of the Great Divide. These are widespread but scattered further west of the line joining Bourke and Dareton. Sightings have been recorded at Milparinka, the Bulloo River and Thurloo Downs (Higgins 1999).

The Fork-tailed Swift is widespread but sparsely scattered in all regions of Victoria (Higgins 1999).

There are several records of the Fork-tailed Swift in Tasmania. They occur on the islands of the Bass Strait, especially King Island but also on Cape Barren Island, and the Furneaux Group. There are some mainland records, mostly in the north, from Stanley East, to Cullenswood and Break O'Day Valley. Further sightings have been recorded at the Horton River, Blackburn Creek, Maria Island, Roseberry, Waddamana, Oakwood Hill, and the Henty Bridge (Higgins 1999).

South Australia
In South Australia the Fork-tailed Swift is widespread from the Victorian border west to the Spencer Gulf. It is also common in coastal parts of Eyre Peninsula as far west as Franklin Island, off Streaky Bay and north to 32° S. There have been a few recently published records beyond these bounds, such as in Flinders Ranges and the Lake Eyre Drainage Basin from Billa Kallina Station, Lake Eyre South and Marree. Sightings have also been recorded north to Moorayepe and east to Innamincka and Moomba (Higgins 1999).

Western Australia
In Western Australia, there are sparsely scattered records of the Fork-tailed Swift along the south coast, ranging from near the Eyre Bird Observatory and west to Denmark. They are widespread in coastal and subcoastal areas between Augusta and Carnarvon, including some on nearshore and offshore islands. They are scattered along the coast from south-west Pilbara to the north and east Kimberley region, near Wyndham. There are sparsely scattered inland records, especially in the Wheatbelt, from Lake Annean and Wittenoom. They are found in the north and north-west Gascoyne Region, north through much of the Pilbara Region, and the south and east Kimberley. They are also recorded in the Timor Sea, both at sea and around islands such as the Ashmore Reef. Isolated records occur at Neale Junction in the Great Victoria Desert and on the Nullarbor Plain (Higgins 1999).

Northern Territory
In the Northern Territory, there are widespread but scattered records in the north. These include some offshore islands, mostly south to Victoria River Downs. Scattered records occur further south to Attack Creek, north of Tennant Creek. Further south, isolated records occur in the Tanami Desert, Avon Downs in the south, Barkly Tableland and, also in far south, at the Hay River. They have also been recorded in the north Simpson Desert and west near Alice Springs (Higgins 1999).

Offshore Islands
Small numbers have occassionally been recorded at Lord Howe Island, Norfolk Island, Christmas Island, Macquarie Island and Chatham Island (Higgins 1999).

According to the 2009 IUCN Red List (Birdlife International 2009b), the Fork-tailed Swift is native and vagrant to the following countries:

Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Christmas Island, Guam, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Democratic People's Republic of, Korea, Republic of; Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Northern Mariana Islands, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Russian Federation, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Viet Nam (Birdlife International 2009b).

Brunei Darussalam, Maldives, New Zealand, Seychelles, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States (Birdlife International 2009b).

The global population is still not quantified; however populations are believed to be stable throughout most of its range, except Pakistan (del Hoyo et al. 1996). There are no measures of abundance in Australia. The largest flocks recorded in Australia were 90 000 near Mildura, Victoria, during 1961 (Simpson 1961); 50 000 at Portland, south-west Victoria, during January 1960 (Anon. 1960); and 50 000 at Ivanhoe, NSW (Anon. 1972).

The Fork-tailed Swift is almost exclusively aerial, flying from less then 1 m to at least 300 m above ground and probably much higher.

In Australia, they mostly occur over inland plains but sometimes above foothills or in coastal areas. They often occur over cliffs and beaches and also over islands and sometimes well out to sea. They also occur over settled areas, including towns, urban areas and cities. They mostly occur over dry or open habitats, including riparian woodland and tea-tree swamps, low scrub, heathland or saltmarsh. They are also found at treeless grassland and sandplains covered with spinifex, open farmland and inland and coastal sand-dunes. The sometimes occur above rainforests, wet sclerophyll forest or open forest or plantations of pines (Higgins 1999). They forage aerially, up to hundreds of metres above ground, but also less then 1 m above open areas or over water. They often occur in areas of updraughts, especially around cliffs. They are said to search along edges of low-pressure systems, which assist flight. Low-flying Swifts are said to be precursors of unsettled weather, possibly because insect prey fly at a lower altitude when the air is humid and when the air density is low (Cameron 1952). They sometimes feed aerially among tree-tops in open forest (Higgins 1999). They probably roost aerially, but are occasionally observed to land (Higgins 1999). They were once recorded roosting in trees, using a bare exposed branch emergent above the foliage (Newell 1930). Sometimes they loaf in the air, by allowing strong winds to support them (Boehm 1939). There have been rare records of loafing elsewhere including Swifts briefly resting on ground (Campbell 1900) and alighting on wire netting of a tennis court (Wheeler 1959). Once, one was seen attempting to land on the wall of a lighthouse (Scarff 1990).

The Fork-tailed Swift does not breed in Australia. In their breeding range, they nest on mountain cliffs or island rock caves, inside narrow crevices or in cracks on vertical cliff faces. They are also known to nest in houses and occasionally in holes in trees (Chantler & Driessens 1995; De Schauensee 1984; Grimmett et al. 1999b; O.S.J. 1974; Roberts 1991). They breed from April to July, usually in small colonies, producing two or three eggs per brood (Chantler & Driessens 1995; Grimmett et al. 1999b; Roberts 1991; Robson 2000).

The species food items within Australia are not well known, however, the Fork-tailed Swift is known to be insectivorous. Studies have recorded the Swift eating small bees, wasps, termites and moths.

The Fork-tailed Swift is an aerial eater, flying anywhere from 1 m to 300 m above the ground to forage. They forage along the edge of low pressure systems and for that reason are considered a precursor to unsettled weather. The low pressure system helps to lift prey, such as insects, from the ground and assists in flight. Feeding flight is characterized by circular flight patterns throughout areas of high prey concentration. They feed in flocks ranging from 10 to 1000 birds (Higgins 1999).

Departure from breeding grounds
The Fork-tailed Swift leaves its breeding grounds in Siberia from August–September. They pass through Korea in late August and travel through the Malay Peninsula from mid-September to mid-November. They have been recorded passing through the Philippines from November–December and spotted in Sumatra in the same time period. They are known to pass through Borneo from mid-late October. They have been sighted in Sulawesi and nearby islands from August–October. On the south passage to Australia the birds have been recorded at Moluccas on Halmahera in late September, Ambon in late August and then Kasiruta in November. The Lesser Sundas are apparently an important migration site through Indonesia with large flocks recorded from September–November. They have been recorded in West Timor from September with large flocks being observed over New Guinea from October–November. Some vagrants have been recorded on the Mariana and Marshall Islands (Higgins 1999).

Arrival in Australia
The Fork-tailed Swift usually arrives in Australia around October; some arrive early in September, however, this is rare. Most observations of arrival occur in the south due to a lack of observers in the north of the country. Some birds have been sighted in Western Australia arriving from Indonesia between October–November. Flocks have been recorded near Broome on southward passage across the continent. The birds are believed not to cross via the Torres Strait on a regular basis, instead entering the country via the Northern Territory. Some birds have, however, been recorded on islands in the Torres Strait and large numbers have been seen in south New Guinea on migration (Higgins 1999).

Movement within Australia
In southern Australia there are no significant differences in the arrival times of the Fork-tailed Swift and they are said to be highly mobile whilst in Australia. Large flocks often precede or follow low pressure systems as they cross the country in search of food. They are common in NSW from October–March and common in the ACT from December–March with flocks occurring three to four times a year within this time period. They are common in Victoria from December–April in years when late-summer subtropical cyclone centers move much further south than usual. In South Australia they are occur from October–May but are more common from December–March. In Western Australia they are common in Broome, with maximum numbers occurring in February. In the Kimberley Division they are present in the Pilbara Region and the Eucla Division from September to late April. In the Northern Territory they occur from mid-October to late-April, however, most are said to leave the Top End from January–February (Higgins 1999).

Return to breeding grounds
The Fork-tailed Swift leaves southern Australia from mid-April and departs the Darwin area by the end of April. The birds also depart via north-east Queensland, with sightings common from February–March and most birds having departed by May. In Tasmania they depart north from March, with most having left by early April. In south-east Western Australia most have left my mid-April. In north and north-west Western Australia, most birds have departed by the end of April. In the Northern Territory most birds have left by April. After departing Australia the birds then travel to Java and Wallacea. They have been recorded over the south coasts of Timor. Thousands have been seen over West Timor. They have been sighted on passage over the Malay Peninsula from late-February to late-May. They also pass through Hong Kong from early-February to mid-May. They have been recorded on north migration over Korea. They return to the breeding grounds in May (Higgins 1999).

There are no significant threats to the Fork-tailed Swift in Australia. Potential threats include habitat destruction and predation by feral animals. Due to the wide range of the species the potential impacts are thought to be negligible (Birdlife International 2009b).

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Felis catus (Cat, House Cat, Domestic Cat) Apus pacificus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006bb) [Internet].
Transportation and Service Corridors:Shipping Lanes:Collision with shipping infrastructure Apus pacificus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006bb) [Internet].

Anon (1960). Notes on swifts, 1959-60. Bird Observer. 348:3-5.

Anon (1972). NSW Bird Report for 1971. Birds. 6:77-99.

BirdLife International (2009b). Apus pacificus In: IUCN 2009. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.2. Apus pacificus. IUCN Red List.

Boehm, E.F. (1939). The Fork-tailed Swift (Micropus pacificus, Latham 1801): with special reference to its occurrence in South Australia. South Australian Ornithologist. 15:54-58.

Cameron, A.C. (1952). At what height do birds fly?. Emu. 52:86-88.

Campbell, A.J. (1900). Nests and Eggs of Australian Birds. Sheffield, Private.

de Schauensee, R.M. (1984). The Birds of China. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, D.A. Christie & J. Sargatal (1996). Handbook of the Birds of the World: Hoatzin to Auks. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.

Grimmett, R., C. Inskipp & T. Inskipp (1999b). A Guide to the Birds of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Higgins, P.J. (ed.) (1999). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Volume Four - Parrots to Dollarbird. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Newell, H.H. (1930). Fork-tailed Swifts. Emu. 29:277.

Ornithological Society of Japan (O.S.J.) (1974). Check-list of Japanese Birds. Gakken Co., Tokyo.

Roberts, T.J. (1991). The Birds of Pakistan. Volume 1, Non-passeriformes. Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press.

Robson, C. (2000). A field guide to the birds of Thailand and South-East Asia. Bangkok, Thailand & New Holland, London, Asia Books.

Scarff, A. (1990). Fork-tailed Swifts: Geraldton. Western Australian Bird Notes. 54:7.

Simpson, K.N.G. (1961). Report on the swift season, 1960/61. Bird Observer. 358:2-3.

Wheeler, W.R. (1959). Notes on Swifts, 1958-59. Bird Observer. 334:2-5.

EPBC Act email updates can be received via the Communities for Communities newsletter and the EPBC Act newsletter.

This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.

Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Apus pacificus in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: Accessed Thu, 2 Oct 2014 05:07:41 +1000.