top of page
Andorinha das chaminés a alimentar as crias Hirundo rustica barn swallow
mix_edited.jpg


SWALLOWS AND MARTINS

that can be seen in Portugal

andorinha das chaminés. barn swallow. hirundo rustica. desenho ilustração
Barn Swallow
(Hirundo rustica)
andorinha dáurica. cecropis daurica. red rumped swallow. desenho ilustração
Red-rumped Swallow
(Cecropis daurica)
ilustração andorinha dos beirais delichon urbicum house martin
Common House Martin
(Delichon urbicum)
andorinha das barreiras riparia riparia sand martin desenho ilustração
Sand Martin
(Riparia riparia)
andorinha das rochas. ptyonoprogne rupestris. crag martin. desenho ilustração
Eurasian Crag Martin
(Ptyonoprogne rupestris)
Taxonomy, Ecology and Biology of Swallows and Martins

Evolution and systematics

Despite presenting recent adaptations to an aerial lifestyle, swallows and martins show some older evolutionary characters, such as the tracheobronchial sirynx, a characteristic that places them in the order Passeriformes. Researchers consider swallows and martins (Hirundinidae) to be closely related to larks (Alaudidae) and to pipits and wagtails (Motacillidae). The family Hirundinidae is divided into the subfamilies Pseudochelidoninae and Hirundininae. The subfamily Pseudochelidoninae consists of only two species of martins (Pseudochelidon eurystomina and Pseudochelidon sirintarae) and is thought to have diverged from the main lineage of swallows and martins, the subfamily Hirundininae, early in the evolution of this family. The evident morphological and behavioural similarities between swallows and martins (Passeriformes: Hirundinidae) and swifts (Apodiformes: Apodidae) are due solely to a process of convergent evolution. When non-evolutionarily related organisms are subjected to similar selective pressures resulting from the ecological niche they occupy, they develop identical morphological and behavioural traits. These similarities explain why, in the past, swallows, martins and swifts were considered close relatives and were all placed in the genus Hirundo. However, in the late 19th century, molecular evidence proved that these birds are not evolutionarily related and as such were placed in different orders.

Topography
anatomiamob2.png

PRIMARIES
They are the longest feathers of the swallows and their main function is to give impulse to the flight. Unlike most feathers that grow under the skin of birds, primaries are attached to the wing bones.

primarias nhas.png

PRIMARIES
They are the longest feathers of the swallows and their main function is to give impulse to the flight. Unlike most feathers that grow under the skin of birds, primaries are attached to the wing bones.

primarias nhas.png

PRIMARIES COVERTS
Feathers that overlap the bases of the primaries feathers and have the function of protecting them.

coberturas primárias nhas.png

PRIMARIES COVERTS
Feathers that overlap the bases of the primaries and have the function of protecting them.

coberturas primárias nhas.png

SECONDARIES
The inner feathers at the base of the wing are called secondary and their main function is to help the bird to glide during flight.

secundárias nhas.png

SECONDARIES
The inner feathers at the base of the wing are called secondaries and their main function is to help the bird to glide during flight.

secundárias nhas.png

GREATER COVERTS
Feathers that overlap the bases of the secondaries and whose main function is to protect them.

grandes coberturas nhas.png

GREATER COVERTS
Feathers that overlap the bases of the secondaries and whose main function is to protect them.

grandes coberturas nhas.png

RUMP
It corresponds to the area below the back and up to the supracaudal feathers. The rump is usually under the closed wings of a bird when perched.

uropigio nhas.png

UPPER TAIL COVERTS
Feathers that protect the base of the retrices.

supracaudais nhas.png

RETRICESS
The tail feathers, also called retrices, are attached to the caudal vertebra and their main function is flight, being used to glide, change direction or brake.

retrizes nhas.png

REETRICES
The tail feathers, also called retrices, are attached to the caudal vertebra and their main function is flight, being used to glide, change direction or brake.

retrizes nhas.png

ALULAS
Three feathers that grow in the place corresponding to our thumbs.

alulas nhas.png

​ALULAS
Three feathers that grow in the place corresponding to our thumbs.

alulas nhas.png

LESSER COVERTS
Feathers near the leading edge of the wing that overlap the bases of the medium covers.

pequenas coberturas nhas.png

LESSER COVERTS
Feathers close to the leading edge of the wing that overlap the bases of the median coverts.

pequenas coberturas nhas.png

MEDIAN COVERTS
Feathers that overlap the bases of greater coverts.

coberturas médias nhas.png

MANTLE
Area below the back of the nape. Consisting of a distinct group of feathers that cover the upper part of the back, flanked by the scapular feathers.

manto nhas.png

CHIN
This is a very small area located at the base of the lower jaw, at the top of the throat. Often, careful observation of the chin can be a good clue to identify certain species.

mento nhas.png

THROAT
Area between chin and chest.

garganta nhas.png

CROWN
Area referring to the top of the swallows head.

coroa nhas.png

NAPE
Area behind the neck.

nuca nhas.png

BILL
Swallows bills are bigger than they look. In order to be able to eat insects in flight, they can open their jaws to an impressive extent.

bico nhas.png

EAR COVERTS
Set of feathers that cover the ears.

coberturas auriculares nhas.png

TERTIALS
The three innermost feathers of the wing are called tertials and their main function is to protect the primaries and secondaries from the sun when the bird is resting.

terceárias nhas.png

MEDIAN COVERTS
Feathers that overlap the bases of greater coverts.

coberturas médias nhas.png

TERTIALS
The three innermost feathers of the wing are called tertials and their main function is to protect the primary and secondary feathers from the sun when the bird is resting.

terceárias nhas.png

BACK
Area between mantle and rump. The back is usually covered by the wings when the bird is perched.

dorso nhas.png

FOREHEAD
Area between bill and crown.

fronte nhas.png

SCAPULARS
Feathers covering the base of the wing. The scapulars flank the mantle and usually cover the curve of the wing.

escapulares nhas.png

SCAPULARS
Feathers covering the base of the wing. The scapulars flank the mantle and usually cover the curve of the wing.

escapulares nhas.png

Morphology

The swallows and martins' delicate morphology allows them to fly fast and with frequent changes of direction, which optimises the capture of insects. The body length of these birds varies between 10 and 24 cm, the weight between 10 and 60 g and the wingspan between 25 and 45 cm. Although all swallows have long, pointed wings with 10 primaries, the structure of the tail varies from species to species, being strongly forked in some species and slightly rounded or square in others. The plumage of swallows is also quite variable. While the plumage of some species is dark or bicoloured (usually brown and white), other species display colourful plumages with iridescent shades. Most species do not display sexual dimorphism and, as such, there are no appreciable differences in plumage or size between males and females. However, in some species, such as the Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica), males have considerably larger external retrices than females. As swallows feed in flight, their small beak has a wide opening that facilitates the capture of insects.

hirundo_sp_ENG.png
fundos-02.jpg

Distribution

Swallows have wide distributions, occurring almost everywhere on the planet, with the exception of the Arctic tundra, Antarctica and some isolated oceanic islands. Some swallow species are endemic to certain regions. There are four endemic species in Australia, nine in North America and about 20 in Central and South America. Africa is not only the nesting ground for more than 30 species, but also hosts most of the species that nest on the European and Asian continents in winter.

mapa de distribuição das andorinhas.hirudinidae

 

Habitat

These passerines exploit a wide variety of habitats and are mainly dependent on the availability of food and nesting sites. Their main hunting habitats include forest ecosystems near lakes, rivers and swamps, wooded savannahs and grasslands. Nesting sites vary between species: some nest in tree cavities, others excavate nests in sand slopes and others build their nests in cliffs or human constructions.

Behaviour

Swallows are expert fliers capable of impressive aerial manoeuvres, both for hunting and courting. Males usually choose and defend a nesting site and attract females through unique calls and flight patterns. Just as aerial manoeuvres are an important part of the mating ritual, coloured patches on the plumage are also crucial for attracting females. The size of each pair's territory varies between species. While gregarious species have smaller territories and these may be restricted to the nesting site itself, solitary species may have considerably larger territories. Migratory individuals may return to the same nesting site year after year if they have previously been successful.

Food ecology and diet

Most swallows are exclusively insectivorous, catching their prey in flight. The Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) is an exception: this species also consumes plant matter, including berries and other small fruits. The type of insects eaten by swallows varies considerably. While the larger swallows can feed on dragonflies and butterflies, the smaller species feed mainly on medium-sized insects such as flies, small beetles and flying ants. Swallows also feed on spiders. The type of prey depends on the species that are available, thus varying with the weather conditions. These birds feed in places where food availability is greatest, flying over open habitat areas, water reserves or forest canopies. During the breeding season these birds tend to feed close to their nesting sites and do not stray more than a few kilometres from them, unlike swifts. Swallows may feed in large flocks or individually.

Reproduction and life cycle

In general, these passerines form monogamous breeding pairs. However, some males with promiscuous behaviour may try to copulate with several females. This behaviour is typical in places where these birds form large flocks. On the other hand, females of some colonial species, such as the Common House Martin (Delichon urbicum), that try to maximise their reproductive success, lay some eggs in the nests of other pairs, who take care of them as if they were their own. Regarding the breeding behaviour, nest construction is highly variable among swallow species. Some species use pre-existing cavities, like old woodpecker holes, to build their nest of mud and twigs. Other species dig tunnels up to two metres long in sandy slopes, building the nest at the inner end of the tunnel. There are also some species that build mud nests that are attached to cliffs, caves or artificial structures, such as viaducts and buildings. These mud nests can have different shapes, being open bowls, like the characteristic nests of the Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica), or being completely closed and have an entrance tunnel, like the nests of the Red-rumped Swallow (Cecropis daurica). These mud nests are renewed and used year after year. Swallows, unlike most swifts, can lay multiple clutches during a nesting season. These may range from 3 to 8 eggs, which are incubated for 11 to 20 days. In some species the eggs are incubated by both sexes. The development of the young takes between 2 and 3 weeks.

shape2.jpg
DID YOU KNOW?

Swallows and martins don't land on the ground to drink!

 

They drink in flight! By flying low over the surface of rivers or ponds.

 

bottom of page