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White-throated Needletail

(Hirundapus caudacutus)
Alternate name(s): "Spine-tailed Swift", "Needle-tailed Swift"
Size: 19-21 cm
Weight: 80-140 g

Similar species

Description     Classification     Distribution     Sightings     Photos     Breeding     Nest     Eggs     Behaviour     Food     Call/s

Physical description

Click here for a physical description

Taxonomy, classification

See White-throated Needletail at Wikipedia .

Range, habitat, finding this species

Click here for information on habitat and range


Click here for sighting information


Race "caudacutus"


White-throated Needletail in flight
[Deriah Aboriginal Area, NSW, January 2014]

Lateral view of a White-throated Needletail, showing clearly the white throat and forehead
[Eulah Creek, NSW, December 2012]

White-throated Needletail seen from underneath; one can distinguish clearly the white throat and undertail coverts extending to its flanks
[Deriah Aboriginal Area, NSW, February 2009]

Another, slightly different view, with the wings much narrower now
[Deriah Aboriginal Area, NSW, February 2009]

Lateral view of a White-throated Needletail in flight
[Deriah Aboriginal Area, NSW, January 2014]

Dorsal view of a White-throated Needletail in flight, showing clearly the name-giving spiny tail feathers (photo courtesy of B. Hensen)
[Moruya, NSW, January 2017]

Unsharp distant photo of a White-throated Needletail banking sharply, changing completely the bird's appearance compared to the usual sickle-shaped wings
[Deriah Aboriginal Area, NSW, January 2014]


Here a White-throated Needletail with greyer plumage, possibly an immature bird
[Pilliga scrub, NSW, December 2011]

Two different phases of the wing beat of an immature(?) White-throated Needletail
[Eulah Creek, NSW, January 2016]


Social behaviour: Communal Mobility: Migratory Elementary unit: FLock

White-throated Needletails are usually observed hunting above forest or woodland. Only in rainy weather, in particularly near approaching storms, they are found hawking for insects above more open country, e.g. in open farmland with scattered trees. This may indicate that their prey, insects, also move from wooded areas into more open space in these weather conditions.

Flock of White-throated Needletails hunting above open farmland in rainy weather
[Eulah Creek, NSW, January 2016]

The way White-throated Needletails often hunt is that part of the flock remains at relatively high altitude, say 100 m, from where they dive down on their prey, which they take at heights of 10-50 m, in rainy conditions also down to near ground level. When not hunting, they have been observed by us circling in thermals.

Food, Diet

Like other swifts, White-throated Needletails are insect hunters. They catch and devour their prey in-flight.


For this species we have recorded the following call(s)/song. The interpretation of their meaning is our own; comments and suggestions for improvement are welcome.

wtneedl_20140215.mp3 caudacutus
Contact call(?) © MD

Being the bird species with the fastest wing-flapping flight , White-throated Needletails create enormous thrust with their wings, which makes the wing beats audible. Below an example of a bird passing over at about 15-20 m above ground.

wtneedl_20140214.mp3 caudacutus
Horizontal flight © MD

These pages are largely based on our own observations and those of our contributors. The structure of these bird pages is explained HERE. For more salient facts on any bird species please refer to a field guide.

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