Aust birds    Bird names   News   1-26    Habitats    Key plants    Glossary    Plumage    Nests    Tips    Thumbnails    Gen. info    Sponsors    Photos for sale   
NON-PASSERINES     1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10     11     12     13     14 15     16     17     18     19     20     21     22     23     24     25     26     PASSERINES
Common names sorted alphabetically: A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   W   Y  


White-throated Needletail

(Hirundapus caudacutus)
Alternate name(s): "Spine-tailed Swift", "Needle-tailed Swift"
Size: 19-21 cm; wing span 50-54 cm
Weight: 80-140 g


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"


Sex unknown

Frontal view of a White-throated Needletail in flight
[Eulah Creek, NSW, March 2018]

This frontal/ventral view of a White-throated Needletail shows the bulky build that separates this species from the similar Pacific (Fork-tailed) Swift
[Eulah Creek, NSW, November 2018]

White-throated Needletail in flight in overcast conditions
[Eulah Creek, NSW, December 2017]

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

Similar view of a White-throated Needletail with its wings shaped like a sickle
[Eulah Creek, NSW, December 2017]

White-throated Needletail seen from underneath, with a clear view of the white throat, undertail and flanks
[Eulah Creek, NSW, December 2017]

Ventral 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]

Distant photo of a White-throated Needletail banking sharply, changing completely the bird's appearance compared to the usual sickle-shaped wings
[Eulah Creek, NSW, December 2017]

Ventral view of a White-throated Needletail in wing moult
[Eulah Creek, NSW, November 2019]


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

Two different phases of the wing beat of a juvenile(?) 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.

This White-throated Needletail was observed going down to a lake, probably to drink water
[Yarrie Lake, NSW, January 2018]


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

More White-throated Needletail sound recordings are available at .

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.

Would you like to contribute photos or sound recordings to this site?
If interested, please CLICK HERE. Credits to contributors are given HERE.