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25

White-backed Swallow

(Cheramoeca leucosternus)
Alternate name(s): "Black-and-white Swallow", "White-breasted Swallow", "White-capped Swallow"
Aboriginal name(s): "boodibodi" (WA)

Size: 14-15 cm
Weight: 11-17 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-backed Swallow at Wikipedia .

Range, habitat, finding this species

Click here for information on habitat and range

Sightings

Click here for sighting information

Photos

ADULT

PAIR

Lateral view of a pair of White-backed Swallows (photo courtesy of C. Hayne)

Near-frontal/ventral view of a pair of White-backed Swallows whose calls were recorded on 16 October 2014 as they were chasing away a third White-backed Swallow
[Near Narrabri, NSW, October 2014]

Lateral view of a pair of White-backed Swallows in flight
[Sturt NP, NSW, September 2012]

Lateral/ventral view of a pair of White-backed Swallows in flight
[Near Narrabri, NSW, August 2018]

Sex unknown

Distant frontal view of a White-backed Swallow
[Near Eulah Creek, NSW, September 2023]

Frontal/ventral view of 3 White-backed Swallows
[Near Eulah Creek, NSW, December 2023]

Near-frontal/ventral view of 3 White-backed Swallows
[Near Eulah Creek, NSW, December 2023]

Near-lateral/ventral view of 3 White-backed Swallows
[Near Eulah Creek, NSW, December 2023]

Lateral/ventral view of 3 White-backed Swallows
[Near Eulah Creek, NSW, December 2023]

Lateral/ventral view of 3 White-backed Swallows landing on a perch
[Near Eulah Creek, NSW, December 2023]

Lateral/ventral view of 3 White-backed Swallows landing on a perch
[Near Eulah Creek, NSW, December 2023]

Near-frontal view of a White-backed Swallow in flight
[Eulah Creek, NSW, May 2013]

Near-frontal view of a White-backed Swallow in flight
[Sturt NP, NSW, September 2012]

Lateral view of a White-backed Swallow in flight
[Near Eulah Creek, NSW, February 2024]

Lateral view of a White-backed Swallow "dropping a bombshell"...
[Near Maules Creek, NSW, May 2013]

Lateral/ventral view of a White-backed Swallow banking sharply, thereby displaying prominently the deeply forked tail
[Near Narrabri, NSW, September 2015]

Dorsal view of a White-backed Swallow in flight
[Eulah Creek, NSW, May 2013]

Ventral view of a White-backed Swallow in flight
[Near Narrabri, NSW, October 2014]

Ventral view of a White-backed Swallow in flight
[Near Narrabri, NSW, August 2020]

Near-lateral comparison of a White-backed Swallow and a Yellow-rumped Thornbill
[Near Eulah Creek, NSW, September 2023]

IMMATURE/JUVENILE

Lateral view of a moulting juvenile White-backed Swallow perched on a fence
[Near Eulah Creek, NSW, February 2024]

Lateral view of 2 juvenile White-backed Swallows perched on a fence
[Near Eulah Creek, NSW, February 2024]

Lateral/ventral view of a juvenile White-backed Swallow; note the creamy-buff cap
[Near Kenebri, NSW, May 2022]

Lateral/ventral view of 3 juvenile White-backed Swallows
[Near Kenebri, NSW, May 2022]

Lateral/ventral view of 4 juvenile White-backed Swallows
[Near Kenebri, NSW, May 2022]

Pair of White-backed Swallows with 4 juveniles, perched on a fence
[Near Eulah Creek, NSW, February 2024]

Breeding information

Breeding season: Jul - Dec Eggs: 4 - 6 Incubation period: 14 - 16 days Fledging age: 14 - 16 days

The breeding season listed in the table above is the preferred season in the southern part of the continent. Depending on geographic latitude and/or weather conditions, White-backed Swallows can, in principle, breed any time of the year.

Nest building: Female & male Incubation: Female (& male?) Dependent care: Female & male

Nest

"bungobittah", "lar", "malunna", "jindi" [bundjalung] = nest [Aboriginal]

Type: Tunnel Material: Soft soil; grass, rootlet, feather lining Height above ground: N/A

White-backed Swallows are the only Australian swallows or martins to use a tunnel for nesting. We found a pair nesting in close proximity to several other tunnel-nesting species, such as Rainbow Bee-eaters, Red-backed Kingfishers and Striated Pardalotes.

Our limited experience so far suggests that, at least in their nesting behaviour, White-backed Swallows are the complete opposite of Welcome Swallows. They are very shy around their nest and do not tolerate the proximity of humans. They watch the surroundings of their nest from the air and don't approach the nest tunnel when suspecting a potential threat. The approach, after flying in circles above the general area of the nest site, is quick and furtive.

General location of a pair of White-backed Swallows' nest tunnel; the entrance is the small hole at the centre of the image
[Near Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2015]

Entrance to a pair of White-backed Swallows' nest tunnel
[Near Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2015]

White-backed Swallow at the entrance to its nest tunnel; a quick glance first...
[Near Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2015]

... before leaving the tunnel
[Near Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2015]

White-backed Woodswallow's departure observed from the other side
[Near Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2015]

White-backed Swallow carrying nest material (slightly unsharp)
[Near Eulah Creek, NSW, September 2015]

White-backed Swallows' nest tunnel in the same bank as shown above, one year later
[Near Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2016]

White-backed Swallow looking out of its nest tunnel in the opposite bank, when the one favoured in previous years was obscured by regrowth in the dry creekbed; this is one of the birds whose calls were recorded on 6 October 2019
[Near Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2019]

White-backed Swallow leaving its nest tunnel
[Near Eulah Creek, NSW, January 2024]

Eggs

"boyanga", "booyanga", "derinya", "dirandil", "koomura", "mirk", "ngampu", "nooluk", "pateena", "pum-pum" = Egg; "dirundirri" = eggs [Aboriginal]; "gawu" = eggs [gamilaraay]

Size: 17 x 12 mm Colour: White Shape: Tapered oval

Behaviour

Social behaviour: Communal Mobility: Sedentary Elementary unit: Pair/family

Until February 2024, we had only found White-backed Swallows in small numbers, up to the size of a family. But then we spotted a flock of almost 30 birds perched in the top of a dead tree.

27 out of a flock of 29 White-backed Swallows perched in the top of a dead tree
[Deriah Aboriginal Area, NSW, February 2024]

We have repeatedly found White-backed Swallows hawking for insects above grassland and also (usually dry) creek beds and gullies.

One of two White-backed Swallows above a dry creek bed
[Near Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2014]

White-backed Swallows seen hawking for insects above (dry) creek beds are also regularly observed by us in low flight above nearby paddocks, sometimes together with other species of swallows and/or martins
[Near Eulah Creek, NSW, August 2018]

White-backed Swallows seen hawking for insects above (dry) creek beds are also regularly observed by us in low flight above nearby paddocks, sometimes together with other species of swallows and/or martins
[Near Eulah Creek, NSW, August 2018]

Food, Diet

Adults: Small insects Dependents: As adults Water intake: Daily(?)

Like all other swallows known to us, White-backed Swallows are insect hunters. They feed in-flight on small insects.

Call(s)/Song

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.

wbswall_20191006_2.m4a (NW NSW) Contact call (in-flight) © MD
wbswall_20180809_2.m4a (NW NSW) Contact calls (in-flight) © MD
wbswall_20180809.m4a (NW NSW) Contact calls (in-flight) © MD
wbswall_20191006.m4a (NW NSW) Contact calls (in-flight, near nest) © MD
wbswall_20240126.m4a (NW NSW) Contact calls (in-flight, near nest) © MD
wbswall_20231203.m4a (NW NSW) Contact calls (in-flight), (+ others in bkgd) © MD

More White-backed Swallow sound recordings are available at xeno-canto.org .

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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If interested, please CLICK HERE. Credits to contributors are given HERE.