Cover image of Greater Striped Swallow by Cobus Elstadt – Near Uniondale, Western Cape – BirdPix No. 256513
The Greater Striped Swallow is a large and attractive species. It has a glossy dark blue-black upperparts which can appear all black in poor light. The forehead, crown and nape are orange-brown. The ear-coverts are off-white with fine, dark streaks. The throat, breast and belly are also off-white and carry narrow, dark streaks. The streaking on the throat is fine and small, becoming progressively larger down onto the breast and belly. The streaking on the underparts appear somewhat faded. The rump and lower back is pale rufous/chestnut and very noticeable in flight. The tail is deeply forked with elongate outer tail-streamers. The flight feathers are slate-black.
The sexes are alike. Juveniles have a red/brown crown, more heavily streaked underparts and reduced tail streamers. The juveniles are also duller in colour.
Adult Greater Striped Swallows are most likely to be mistaken for the Lesser Striped Swallow Cecropis abyssinica but that species is noticeably smaller and has orange ear coverts and has heavy black streaking on the underparts.
Status and Distribution
A common intra-African breeding migrant. The Greater Striped Swallow is not threatened and has benefited from its ability to nest on man-made structures and has probably increased in abundance as a result. This is most apparent in open habitats where suitable nest sites were previously unavailable. A local decrease in the Cape Town area has been claimed. This is due to urbanization which has led to a lack of moist clay for nest building and a possible reduction in food supply.
This species is found in a wide variety of habitats. It favours more open landscapes, ranging from semi-arid Karoo, Fynbos, grassland and lightly wooded savanna to cultivated areas. It is often found near water and is common in suburban habitat and around farm houses.
The Greater Striped Swallow is an intra-African breeding migrant. The first arrivals reach northern South Africa by mid-July and the southern parts of the country by mid-August. Most birds depart for their non-breeding grounds by early to mid-May. This species breeds almost exclusively within southern Africa, with a small breeding population in Angola.
It is a conspicuous and often confiding swallow that is frequently found around human habitation. It is most often encountered singly, in pairs, or family groups, sometimes in flocks of more than 30 birds. It also regularly joins loose flocks of other swallows and swifts. The flight is slow, with relaxed gliding between short bursts of flapping but is capable of rapid flight. It can often be seen perched on fences, overhead lines and bushes and will often rest on the ground, especially during windy conditions.
The Greater Striped Swallow feeds on aerial insects, such as flies, wasps, beetles, moths and termite alates.
Breeding takes place mainly from September to May. In nature, nests are placed on the underside of rock overhangs and sloping rocks or boulders. Nests are frequently built on man-made structures such as under bridges, under the eaves of houses, in road culverts, old mine entrances and abandoned machinery. The nest is an enclosed bowl equipped with a long, horizontal entrance tunnel. It is composed of mud pellets, and lined with fine grass, plant fibres, hair and feathers. The nest is built by both sexes and takes around 16 days to completion.
Three to five eggs are produced per clutch and incubation starts once all the eggs have been laid. The female is solely responsible for incubation, although the male sleeps in the nest with her at night. Incubation takes 14 to 21 days. Young chicks take around 26 days to fledge and are fed by both parents during this time.
Greater Striped Swallows are double or multiple brooded, meaning they often breed more than once in a season. Their nests are sometimes usurped by White-rumped Swifts (Apus caffer), thus forcing the swallows to build another nest.
Species text adapted from the first Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP1), 1997. That text can be found here.
The use of photographs by Cobus Elstadt, Dewald du Plessis, Gerald Wingate, Lia Steen and Malcolm Robinson is acknowledged.
Virtual Museum (BirdPix > Search VM > By Scientific or Common Name).
Other common names: Grootstreepswael (Afrikaans); Mbawulwana (Tswana); iNkoniane (Zulu); Inkonjane (Xhosa); Hirondelle à tête rousse (French); Große Streifenschwalbe (German); Andorinha-estriada-grande (Portuguese); Kaapse Zwaluw (Dutch).
Recommended citation format: Tippett RM 2023. Greater Striped Swallow Cecropis cucullata. Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available online at http://thebdi.org/2023/04/22/greater-striped-swallow-cecropis-cucullata/