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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
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


Click here for sighting information



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

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

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

Lateral view of two White-backed Swallows hunting
[Sturt NP, NSW, September 2012]

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

White-backed Swallow in flight seen from straight underneath; this is one of the birds whose calls were recorded on 31 October 2014
[Near Narrabri, NSW, October 2014]

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

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

These are the two White-backed Swallows whose calls were recorded on 16 October 2014; when their calls were recorded, they were chasing away a third White-backed Swallow
[Near Narrabri, NSW, October 2014]

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


"bungobittah", "malunna" = 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 Narrabri, NSW, October 2015]

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

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

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

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

White-backed Swallow carrying nesting material (slightly unsharp)
[Near Narrabri, NSW, September 2015]

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


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

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


Social behaviour: Communal Mobility: Sedentary Elementary unit: Flock

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

Closer look at one of the two White-backed Swallows whose calls were recorded on 16 October 2014, hawking for insects; this photo was taken out of a dry creek bed
[Near Narrabri, NSW, October 2014]

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.


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_20141031_2.mp3 (NW NSW) Contact calls (in-flight) © MD
wbswall_20141031_3.mp3 (NW NSW) Contact calls (in-flight) © MD
wbswall_20141016_5.mp3 (NW NSW) Contact calls (in-flight) © MD
wbswall_20141016_2.mp3 (NW NSW) Contact calls (in-flight) © MD
wbswall_20141016.mp3 (NW NSW) Contact calls (in-flight) © MD
wbswall_20151008.mp3 (NW NSW) Warning calls? (in-flight near nest) © 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.

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