Hirundo smithii

Hirundo smithii, Leach, App. to Tuckey’s Voy. Congo, p. 107 (1818) ; Hartl. Orn. West-Afr. p. 26 (1857) ; id. J. f. O. 1861, p. 103 ; Sharpe, Cat. Birds in Brit. Mus. s. p. 150 (1885).
Wire-tailed Swallow, Lath. Gen. Hist. vii. p. 309, pl. cxiii. (1823).
Hirundo filifera, Steph. Gen. Zool. xiii. p. 78 (1826) ; Gray, Gen. B. i. p. 58 (1845) ; id. Cat. Fissir. Brit. Mus. p. 25 (1848) ; Blyth, Cat. B. Mus. As. Soc. p. 197 (1849) ; Bp. Consp, i. p. 338 (1850) ; Cab. Mus. Hein. Th. i. p. 46 (1850) ; Horsf. & Moore, Cat. B. E. I. Co. Mus. i. p. 93 (1854) ; Jerd. B. Ind. i. p. 159 (1862) ; Kirk, Ibis, 1864, p. 320 ; Blyth, Ibis, 1866, p. 337 ; Tytler, Ibis, 1868, p. 196 ; Pelz. t. c. p. 307 ; id. J. f. O. 1868, p. 25 ; Beavan, Ibis, 1869, p.403 ; Heugl. Orn. N.O.-Afr. i. p. 155 (1869) ; Gray, Hand-l. B. i. p. 70, no. 820 (1869) ; Sharpe, P. Z. S. 1870, p. 312 ; Finsch & Hartl. Vog. Ostafr, p. 141 (1870) ; Jerd. Ibis, 1871. p. 352 ; Blanf. J. A. S. Beng. xl. p. 271 (1871) ; Hume, Str. F. 1873, p. 164 ; Adam, t. c. p. 370 ; Vipan, t. c. p. 195 ; Hume, Str. F. 1874, p. 469 ; Aitken. Str. F. 1875, p. 212 ; Butler, t. c, p. 451 ; Hume, t. c. p. 451 ; Fairb. Str. F. 1876. p. 254 ; Wardlaw Ramsay, Ibis, 1877, p. 466 ; Anders. Rep. Exped. Yun-nan. Birds, p. 650 (1878) ; Hume & Davis. Str. F. 1878, p. 43 ; Davids. & Wend. Str. F. 1878, vol. ii. p. 76 ; Butler, t. c. p. 181 ; Ball, t. c. p. 202 ; Hume, Str. F. 1879 p. 84 ; Bingham, t. c. p. 192 ; Doig, t. c. p. 370 ; Butler, Cat. P. Sind &c. p. 12 (1879) ; id. Cat. B. S. Bomb. Pres. p. 14 (1880) ; Vidal, Str. F. 1880 p. 43 : Wardlaw Ramsay, Ibis, 1880, p. 48 ; Bingham, Str. F. 1880, p. 118 ; Reid, Str. F. 1881, p. 18 ; Boeage, Orn. Angola, p. 186 (1881) ; Davidson, Str. F. 1882, p. 292 ; C. Swinh. Ibis, 1882, p. 101 ; Sharpe, ed. Layard’s B. S. Afr. p. 368 (1882) ; Salvad. Ann. Mus. Civic- Genov. (2) i. p. 120 (1884) ; Murray, Vertebr. Faun. Sind, p. 102 (1884) ; De Rochebr. Faun. Seneg., Ois. p.218 (1884) C. Swinhoe & Barnes, Ibis, 1885, p. 59.
Hirundo filicaudata, Frankl. P. Z. S. 1831, p. 115.
Hirundo ruficeps, Licht. Verz. Doubl, p. 68 (1823) ; Ferr. et Gal. Voy. Abyss, iii. p. 242 (1847) ; Cass. Cat. Hirund. Mus. Philad. Aead. p. 3 (1853) : Brooks, Ibis. 1869, p. 46 ; Blanf. Geol. & Zool. Abyss, p. 318 (1870) ; Hayes Lloyd, Ibis. 1873, p. 406.
Cecropis filifera, Less. Compl. Buff. viii. p. 499 (1837).
Cecropis ruficeps, Boie, Isis, 1844, p. 171.
Cecropis smithii, Boie, Isis, 1844, p. 174.
Cecropis filicaudata, Rupp. Syst. Uebers, p. 22 (1845) ; Heugl. Syst. Uebers, p. 14 (1856) ; Antin. Cat. Ucc. p. 26 (1865).
Hirundo filicauda, Mull. J. f. O. 1855, p. 5.
Cecropis filicauda, Brehm, J. f. O. 1855, p. 452.
Uromitrus filifera, Bp. Rivist. Contemp., Torino, 1857, p. 4 ; Brehm, Reis. Habesch, p. 209 (1863) ; Hume, Nests and Eggs Ind. B. p. 75 (1874) ; Ball, Str. E. 1874, p. 383, 1875, p. 289.
Hirundo velocissima, Br. Wurt. MSS., teste Heuglin.
Hirundo fuscicapilla, Heugl. Orn. N.O.-Afr. i. p. 154 (1869).
Hirundo anchietoe, Boeage, Jorn. Lisb. 1867, p. 150.
Uromitrus filiferus, Oates, B. Brit. Burm. i. p. 307 (1883).
H. dorso postieo et uropygio dorso coneoloribus, chalybeo-caeruleis ; pileo rufo.
Hab. in regione AEthiopica et in regione Indiea.
Adult male. General colour above glossy purplish blue, the feathers of the mantle and hind neck varied with white bases to the feathers ; wing-coverts like the back, with a white spot on the inner web of the innermost greater coverts ; bastard-wing, primary-coverts, and quills black, edged with purplish blue ; tail-feathers black, edged with purplish blue, all but the two centre feathers with a large white spot near the end of the inner web ; crown of head deep bay ; lores and feathers round the eye black ; ear-coverts purplish blue ; cheeks and under surface of body white, with a slight fulvous tinge on the chin ; the sides of the upper breast purplish blue, forming a lateral patch ; under wing-coverts and axillaries like the breast ; quills blackish below : “legs, feet, and bill black ; iris blackish brown” (E. A. Butler). Total length 6.7 inches, culmen 0.3, wing 4.5, tail 1.4, outer tail-feather 3.75, tarsus 0.4.
Adult female. Similar to the male in colour, but with a much shorter outer tail-feather. Total length 5 inches, culmen 3.0, wing 4.2, tail 1.25, outer tail-feather 1.9, tarsus 0.4.
The descriptions are taken from a pair of birds from the Congo, as from this locality came the original specimen. Indian examples are rather larger, and exceed the African ones in the length of the outer wire-like tail-feather. The males from various parts of India, in the Hume collection, have the wing from 4.4 to 4.9 inches in length, and the outer tail-feather from 5.0 to 7.0 inches. On the other hand, however, the same collection contains male examples with the tail-feather only 4.5 inches long, so that the difference between these and African examples is not very great.
Sometimes the head is very pale tawny, while in other specimens it is deep chestnut. The paler birds are generally in worn breeding-plumage, but not always, and it is probable that the colour of the crown deepens and the tail lengthens with age.
Young. Much more dingy blue than in the adults and not nearly so glossy ; the head brown ; the throat and fore neck rufous buff ; the tail nearly square, without any marked prolongation of the outer feather, the white spot on the inner web of the feathers varying in size, but not so large as in the adults.
Young birds after their first moult have much shorter tails than the adult, are rather greener in colour, and have the throat and chest washed with rufous. The head is dark chestnut, and hears out the remarks made above on this subject.
Hab. Ethiopian Region generally ; and in Asia from Baluchistan, throughout the greater part of the Indian peninsula to Burmah and Tenasserim.
THIS very elegant Swallow is found in Africa and India, being much more plentiful and more widely distributed in the Indian than it is in the Ethiopian Region. Its rufous cap, blue back, white underparts, and wire-like tail-feathers form a combination of characters which render the species easily recognizable.
In Africa it would appear to be decidedly local, for there are vast tracts of the continent in which it is apparently absent. Mr. Gould mentions having seen a specimen from the River Gambia, and it has been recorded by Dr. Hartlaub as having been obtained by Aubry Lecomte on the River Casamance. Dr. de Rochebrune states that it is common enough in Senegambia, and that lie found it at Albreda, Zekinkior, Sainte- Marie, Sedhiou, and Melacorce.
We have no record of its further occurrence in West Africa till we arrive at the Congo region. Here it was originally discovered on Chisalla Island during Captain Tuckey’s expedition, and M. Louis Petit also procured specimens at Landana. Senhor Anchieta has met with it at Benguela, Gambos, and Capangombe in the southern portion of the Portuguese province of Angola. Sir John Kirk found it at Tete on the Zambesi, and the late Professor Peters procured it in Mozambique.
Von Heuglin gives the following account of its distribution in North-eastern Africa :—“Resident in Dongola, according to Brehm, and is recorded by Hartmann as the House-Swallow of the Upper Nile.” It was found by Von Heuglin himself in Dongola, near Berber, in Kordofan, on the Bahr el Azraq, and in Abyssinia between 2500 and 6000 feet above the sea-level. Brehm mentions its occurrence on the Abys¬sinian coast-land, and it is probably also met with in Arabia. During the expedition to Abyssinia, Mr. Blanford only saw this Swallow once, when he shot a pair sitting together on a spray overhanging a small stream near Agula, about halfway between Adigrat and Antalo. The late Marquis Antinori met with the species on the Blue Nile, and received a specimen from Khartoum. He likewise obtained it at Daimbi in Shoa, in March 1882.
Von Heuglin described a new Swallow as Hirundo fuscicapilla, which he found "in large flocks in Central and Western Abyssinia, in thick forest, generally resting on trees." This supposed new species is evidently the young of H. smithii, though it is remarkable that the traveller met with nothing but brown-headed birds.
In the Indian region the Wire-tailed Swallow has a wide range, which we will endeavour to trace, the distribution being very fully accounted lor by the specimens in the Hume collection. It extends to the westward into Afghanistan, Sir Oliver St. John having forwarded to Mr. Hume a specimen from the Kandahar district ; and Captain Wardlaw Ramsay records its occurrence in the Kurrum valley, and states that it is probably found in the Hariab district. Mr. Murray notes it from Quetta. Mr. Hume did not himself procure the species in Sind, but be has received a specimen from Hyderabad during the inundation, and Captain Malden informed him that it was common about Jacobabad in May. Mr. Murray gives the following note on its occurrence :— “In Sind it arrives about the latter end of July and breeds in the province. All the nests taken by myself and Lieut. Henry Barnes were in July and August, and a few in September. It builds a shallow cup or saucer-shaped nest of clay, lined with feathers, generally under bridges and culverts, and, on the Indus, under the stern of the flat-bottomed barges lying unused. Eggs 2-4, white, speckled all over with rusty or brick-red.” Mr. Scrope Doig has found it breeding in the Eastern Narra. In Kathiawar it is common, according to Major Hayes Lloyd.
Near the Sambhur Lake it is said by Mr. Adam not to be common, though a few birds are always to be seen in the mornings, working over the fields. He obtained a nest with two eggs on the 13th of July. Mr. Hume has specimens procured by himself at Ajmere, in November and December.
Colonel Butler, in his “Notes on the Avifauna of Mount Aboo and Northern Guzerat,” says that it seems to be partial to particular localities. In some places, though not very plentiful anywhere, it may be seen in pretty considerable numbers, in others it does not occur at all. He never saw one at Mount Aboo. Mr. Hume comments on the above paragraph :—“Common throughout the whole region, but I also never saw it at Aboo ; and Dr. King, who collected there for two years, neither preserved a specimen, nor recorded it in his MSS. list. This is the more remarkable, as it ascends the Himalayas to an elevation of at least 5000 feet.”
On Mr. Sharpe’s journey to Simla he noticed a pair in May, flying under a bridge near one of the hill-stations beyond Solun, and he saw them there again on his return in July. Dr. Stoliczka procured specimens at Kangra, in the North-west Himalayas, at a height of 2000 feet, and in the Hume collection is a male from Koteghur. Mr. W. E. Brooks met with it in May at Dhurmsala, in Cashmere.
Colonel Tytler, during his march from Simla to Masuri, states that it was not un¬common in valleys near streams, but at no great elevation ; and near Naini Tal and Almora, Mr. W. E. Brooks records it as tolerably common along the rocky streams in the valleys, where it breeds. Colonel Strachey also met with it in Kumaon, and a specimen from the Dehra Doon is in the Hume collection. Mr. Hodgson also obtained it in Nepal.
The late Captain Beavan writes:—“I have frequently heard from my late friend Dr. Scott, that this species occurs in some abundance about Umballa in certain seasons, and breeds there under culverts and road-bridges near that station, but I never observed it there myself.” The Hume collection, however, contains an example from the above neighbourhood, collected by Dr. Scott.
Captain Bingham has met with the Wire-tailed Swallow near Delhi in September ; and in the Hume collection are examples from Lucknow, Cawnpore, Allahabad, Etawah, and Mynpuri. Mr. George Reid remarks that the Wire-tailed Swallow is a permanent resident, and, though never found in any great numbers, is universally spread over the Lucknow division. It habitually frequents jhils and rivers, the masonry bridges over the latter being favourite resorts ; but it may be met with in any locality on its wav to and from its especial haunts.
Professor Valentine Ball says that it is not unfrequently met with in Chota Nagpur. especially in the vicinity of some of the larger rivers, and in his notes on the birds found between the Ganges and the Godaveri River he enumerates the following list of locali¬ties for the species :—Rajmehal Hills, Lohardugga, Singhbum, Sirguja, Sambalpur, north of Mahanadi, Orissa, south of Mahanadi. Mr. Hume has received it from Raipur and Saugor, and Mr. W. T. Blanford met with it in the Wardha valley.
Colonel Swinhoe and Lieut. Barnes state that near Mhow it is very common and a permanent resident, breeding during March, April, and May. Captain Beavan observed it near Morar in Gwalior, in the cold weather. Mr. Wyatt shot a female on the Nirbada near Jabalpur. Colonel Butler obtained a young specimen in the valley of the Tapti. in Western Khandeish, in May ; and in Western Khandeish, according to Mr. J. Davidson, it is a permanent resident, common throughout the district, breeding along all the rivers and nullahs over water from February to May. In the Deccan Messrs. Davidson and Wenden state that it is common and breeds there. Colonel Butler, in his list of the birds of the Southern Bombay Presidency, gives the species as a permanent resident, common and occurring in most localities throughout the region. Specimens collected by him at Belgaum are in the Hume collection. Mr. Vidal states that it is nowhere common in the south Koukan, and gives as localities where he has observed it—Ratna- giri, Peve, Khed-Malvan, and Dhamapur in the south, and Bankok in the north.
Mr. W. Davison has obtained the species at Muddur, in Mysore, and specimens from Coonoor, in the Nilghiri Hills, are in the Hume collection.
Captain Vipan, in the first volume of ‘Stray Feathers,’ refers to a letter addressed to the ‘Field’ by an anonymous writer, in which the Wire-tailed Swallow is said not to occur west of Coimbatore ; but he states that he saw several in February about five miles from Cannanore, and about 200 yards from the coast.
In Burmah Captain Wardlaw Ramsay procured the present species at Tonghoo, and Dr. Anderson met with it at Bhamo in January. A specimen from the neighbourhood of Rangoon is said by Mr. Oates to be in the Phayre Museum in that town. According to Messrs. Hume and Davison it only occurs in the north of Tenasserim : and the latter traveller says that he found the species living over the paddy-fields in small numbers at Pahpoon, but did not notice it anywhere else in the province. Capt. Bingham, writing from Tenasserim, says:—“ I identified, but failed to secure, specimens of this beautiful Swallow at Kamangla rapids on the Thoungyeen River. In July 1879 I found them common about the paddy-fields near Kamaulai on the Salween, and secured a lew specimens. 1 only noticed them for a day or two, and then they passed on westward.
Von Heuglin gives the following note on the habits of the Wire-tailed Swallow in North-eastern Africa:—“ I observed these charming little creatures from the end of the rainy season until February or March, but I cannot say with certainty if they migrate later on. They live in pairs or families, but never in large communities, preferring rocky valleys where trees grow, as they like to sit on the bare boughs and tops of trees. The song resembles that of the Chimney-Swallow both when at rest and in flight, but it is louder and more varied. It is never seen in villages. The breeding-time in Abyssinia appears to be between the months of September and January, and I found nests in November on the rocky cliffs of Asaru (near Adoa). The latter consist of dung and straw, similar to those of the Common Swallow, and they are placed under overhanging rocks at a height of from ten to twenty feet. A nest found towards the end of November contained four half-fledged young birds, and as the males continue an animated song until January, I conclude that the species has several broods.”
The following excellent account is given by Mr. Hume in his ‘Nests and Eggs of Indian Birds’ :—“ In the plains of India the Wire-tailed Swallow breeds chiefly in February and March, and again in July, August, and September ; but I have seen eggs as early as January and as late as November. In the lower ranges of the Himalayas, where it breeds up to an elevation of from 4000 to 5000 feet, I have taken the nests both in April and May, and have had eggs sent me in June.
“They breed almost exclusively in the immediate neighbourhood of water ; under the cornices of bridges ; under culverts beneath which some little pool remains ; under overhanging shelves of rock or kunker, projecting from the faces of stony or earthy river cliffs ; and in cells of buildings overlooking the water.
“ The nest is composed exteriorly of mud, and is usually lined with feathers ; in shape, for the most part, about two-thirds of a deepish cup. I have a note of two nests which I took at Etawah, at a canal bridge, March 8th, 1867 ; one contained three, the other two eggs. Those of the one nest were ready to hatch off ; those of the other were quite fresh. The shell of the nest was made of pellets of clay. In shape the first was half of a wide cone, blocked up against the voussoir faces, just below an overhanging cornice. Internally it was carefully lined with a few fine roots of grass and many soft feathers, chiefly those of doves and parrots, so as to leave a neat hemispherical cavity for the eggs. The second was a deep cup, plastered against the face of the bridge, a little way below a square projection, and had absolutely no lining of feathers, only a few grass roots.
“ A beautiful nest taken by Mr. Adam in the Etmadoodowla Gardens at Agra in the third week in August, was a broad, shallow, half saucer of pellets of clay, about 5.1/2 inches broad, and about 3 inches from front to back, plastered against one of the walls of the small cells facing the river and near the roof. Several other birds of the same species were breeding in the same cell. The bottom of the nest was about 3/4 inch and the sides about 1/2 inch thick. The cavity was lined with fine grass roots and a very few feathers. It contained three fresh eggs.
“ Mr. Adam remarks : ‘On the 15th July, at Sambhur, I observed this species building in an old rest-house.
“ ‘ The nest was half finished, and was placed in a very exposed place, under the cornice, about 10 feet from the ground. Both birds were bringing mud from an open well about 200 yards off, but the male seemed very inactive, and appeared to be shy of approaching the nest while I stood about 8 yards off with my binoculars watching the building operations.
“‘The mud was taken from the water’s edge, each bird taking from eight to ten pecks at the mud to fill its bill, and sometimes with the mud a piece of fine grass was taken. When the birds reached the nest, the mud was discharged along the edge by shaking the head and body, much like the shaking which takes place when a pigeon is feeding its young. The grass or fibre was carefully worked along the edge of the nest, and great care seemed to be taken by both birds to make the portion attached to the wall very secure.
“ ‘ On the 18th July I once took a nest with four eggs from an old well. The eggs are pinkish white with rust-coloured spots and blotches. On several occasions during August, I have found the nest of this bird about old buildings along the Jumna near Agra. The nests generally contained three eggs.'
“Three, I think, is the usual number of eggs, but I have found only two, hard-set : and Mr. W. Blewitt, who took several nests during July and August, all built under canal and drain bridges in the neighbourhood of Hansie, found four eggs in two of the nests.
“Where there is plenty of water, from three to seven nests will often be found quite near to each other ; while where there is little water, they are usually quite solitary.
“Dr. Jerdon remarks that 'it breeds in old buildings, on walls, in stone bowries or wells, and very commonly under bridges, and in rocks overhanging water, making a small nest, open at the top, and laying two or three eggs, which are white, sparingly spotted with rusty red. I always found the nest single, and we seldom see more than five or six couples in one place.’
“The eggs are in shape a long narrow oval, a good deal pointed towards one end. In some there is a pyriform tendency, and some are so excessively long and narrow as to recall the eggs of Cypsetus affinis. In texture they are line and delicate, with, when fresh, a beautiful gloss, which, however, almost disappears as incubation proceeds. The ground-colour is white, or pinkish white (when fresh and unblown, almost a delicate salmon-pink, owing to the yolk partially showing through), richly speckled, spotted, and blotched with various shades of reddish brown and brownish red. The extent of the markings varies greatly, as well as the intensity of their colouring. Some are spotted pretty uniformly all over ; but in the majority the markings are most numerous at the large end. Occasionally, they are gathered into a well-marked zone towards this end : and one egg has a nearly complete cap of continent markings, covering the whole of the larger end. These are the most richly marked Swallow’s eggs that I know, and some specimens are excessively handsome. 0.5 to 0.57 inch ; but the average struck from a large number of measurements I find to be, 0.72 by 0.53 inch.”
In his Notes on the Swallows and Swifts of Berar, Mr. Aitken observes :—“ This species supplies in Berar the place of H. rustica which it so strongly resembles in its habits. It seems to be even fonder of water ; indeed it rarely leaves it, skimming over the surface with a speed matching that of the Swift, its metallic colours flashing in the sun. It is a permanent resident, and breeds from February to June. The nest is a mere shallow saucer built under a rock or wall, sometimes even on earthy bank at the water¬side, and it exhibits in the construction all the forethought and patience of its English relative. The first nest I watched took four weeks to complete, a narrow layer of mud being added cautiously each day, and left to dry. When this part of the business was complete, a lining of fine grass was added, then one of feathers, and on this were laid three long-shaped eggs, of a white colour, well spotted with dark reddish brown. I confess to having been guilty of the cruelty of taking two of these for my collection, but the faithful little bird continued still to sit, and I had afterwards the satisfaction of seeing the remaining egg hatched and the young one fledged. Long after they are able to fly, the young are fed in the air by the old birds exactly after the manner of the English Swallow, parents and young circling round and round and then with a com¬placent twitter, clinging together for an instant, during which the mouthful of insects is transferred from the one to the other.”
With respect to the migrations of this species, a letter is quoted by Professor Ball, which had been addressed to him by Mr. Lewin, concerning the species in Chota Nagpur:—“ I was strolling along the banks, or rather sands, of the Koel, a few days before Christinas, when I noticed a long flight of H. filifera (I shot one to make sure). They were proceeding in small parties of 8 to 10 or 15 steadily to westward, and I am sure at least 200 must have passed during the short time I looked on. They are by no means common here, and I never saw more than six or eight at a time before. I got a nest last April in a cleft in a rock on the Koel near here.”
Dr. Jerdon says that the Hindustani name of “Leishra” is given to this species, from a supposed resemblance of the thin tail-feathers to the rod used for catching birds with bird-lime, which is called “Leishra.”
The adult male figured is in Mr. Wyatt’s collection, and is from Malabar, and the female and young arc drawn from specimens in the Hume collection.

A Monograph Of The Hirundinidae Or Family Of Swallows.
Sharpe, Richard Bowdler, and Claude Wilmott Wyatt. A Monograph of the Hirundinidae: Or Family of Swallows. Vol. 1. 1894.
Title in Book: 
Hirundo smithii
Spp Author: 
Book Author: 
Richard Bowdler
Page No: 
Common name: 
Wire Tailed Swallow
Wire-tailed Swallow
Hirundo smithii
Vol. 1
Term name: 

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