Cover image by Robbie Aspeling – Marievale bird sanctuary, Gauteng – BirdPix No. 1982 White-throated Swallow
The White-throated Swallow is a fairly large and handsome species. It has glossy dark blue upperparts which can appear black in poor light. The frons is red-brown or chestnut and is confined to the forehead. The most distinguishing feature is a broad, glossy dark blue breast band, which is narrowest at the centre. The breast band can sometimes be incomplete. The throat is pure white and the undersides are dull white to pale greyish in colour. The eyes are dark brown and the bill, legs and feet are black. The tail is forked and has comparatively short and broad tail streamers.
Adult White-throated Swallows are most likely to be mistaken for the Wire-tailed Swallow (Hirundo smithii) but that species is distinctly smaller and has an entirely chestnut crown. The Wire-tailed Swallow also lacks the broad breast band, showing only a partial breast at the shoulders. The Wire-tailed Swallow also has a black vent band (conspicuous in flight) and the tail streamers are long and thin.
Juveniles are duller than adults and the breast band and upperparts are brownish, but may show hints of the adults blue colouration. Juveniles also lack the red-brown forehead patch.
Juveniles can be confused with the Banded Martin (Riparia cincta) but that species has a square tail and a small white supercilium.
Status and Distribution
A locally common intra-African breeding migrant. The White-throated Swallow is restricted to Africa south of the equator. It is distributed virtually throughout Southern Africa. It is common in the wetter parts of South Africa but its distribution is more patchy across the rest of the subcontinent where it is far less common.
The White-throated Swallow is not threatened in Southern Africa. It has expanded in numbers and range owing to the construction of artificial impoundments and the numerous man-made structures which have become available as nesting sites.
This swallow is usually found in the vicinity of wetlands, especially rivers, dams and other expanses of open water, where suitable nesting sites are available. It is most common in open habitats, especially in grassland and fynbos. It is less numerous in wooded environs.
As already mentioned, the White-throated Swallow is an intra-African breeding migrant. They first arrive during August in South Africa, and most depart by mid April but some remain until May. Some birds overwinter in Southern Africa, particularly in Zimbabwe. Birds that breed in Southern Africa are believed to migrate to Angola, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
They are usually seen singly or in pairs. Often perches on wires, posts or stumps, especially over or near water. The flight is swift and agile. Prey items are caught in low, skimming flight over the ground, water or grassland and will sometimes hawk insects from a perch. Consumes aerial insects, such as flies, wasps, beetles and termite alates.
Breeding takes place soon after arrival in South Africa and has been recorded from August to April. Breeding peaks during October and multiple broods are raised. The nest is a robust cup composed of mud pellets, lined with fine grass, plant fibres, hair and feathers.
The nest may be attached to a vertical rock face but is usually placed under an overhang such as under bridges, culverts, water tanks, dam walls and under the eaves of buildings, mostly over or near water. In the Western Cape nests are sometimes built on structures over the sea.
Anywhere from 1 to 5 eggs (usually 3 eggs) are laid and incubation starts once all the eggs have been laid. Incubation takes about 17 days and all incubation duties are performed by the female. Young chicks take around 22 days to fledge and are fed by both parents during this time.
White-throated Swallows are double or multiple brooded, meaning they often breed more than once in a season.
Species text adapted from the first Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP1), 1997. That text is here.
The use of photographs by Anthony Paton, Colin Summersgill, Lappies Labuschagne, Lia Steen, Marc Van Goethem and Robbie Aspeling is acknowledged.
Virtual Museum (BirdPix > Search VM > By Scientific or Common Name).
Other common names: Witkeelswael (Afrikaans); Mbawulwana (Tswana); iNkoniane (Zulu); Inkonjane (Xhosa); Hirondelle à gorge blanche (French); Weißkehlschwalbe (German); Andorinha-de-garganta-branca (Portuguese); Witkeelzwaluw (Dutch).
Recommended citation format: Tippett RM 2023. White-throated Swallow Hirundo albigularis. Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available online at http://thebdi.org/2023/04/13/white-throated-swallow-hirundo-albigularis/