1068. Cypselus melba.
The Alpine Swift.
Hirundo melba, Linn. Syst. Nat. i, p. 345 (1766). Hirundo alpina, Scop. Ann. i, p. 166 (1769). Cypselus melba, Illiger, Prodr. p. 230; Blyth, Cat. p. 85; Layard. A. M. N. H. (2) xii, p. 167; Adams, P. Z. S. 1859, p. 175; Jerdon, B. I. i, p. 175; id. Ibis, 1871, p. 354 ; Stoliczka, J. A. S. B. xxxvii, pt. 2, p. 18; McMaster, J. A. S. B. xi, pt. 2, p. 208; Butler, S. F. iii, p. 453; v, p. 218 ; ix, p. 379 ; Blanford, S. F. v, p. 245; Davidson & Wenden, S. F. vii, p. 77; Ball, ibid. p. 202; Hume, Cat. no. 98; Legge, Birds Ceyl. p. 317; Vidal, S. F. ix, p. 43; Davidson, S. F. x, p. 293; id. Jour. Bom. N. H. Soc. i, p. 177; Littledale, ibid. pp. 31,196; Davison, S. F. x, p. 347 ; Barnes, Birds Bom. p. 85 ; id. Journ. Bom. N. II. Soc. iii, p. 47; iv, p. 4 ; St. John, Ibis, 1889, p. 155 ; Oates in Hume's N. & E. 2nd ed. iii. p. 20. Cypselus alpinus, Jerdon, Mad. Jour. L. S. xi, p. 235 (1840). Micropus melba, Boie, Isis, 1844, p. 165; Hartert, Cat. B. M. xvi, p. 438.
Coloration. Upper parts, sides of head and neck, a broad band across the upper breast, and the lower tail-coverts brown, varying slightly in depth of tint, nearly uniform in old birds, the feathers darker near the end, and with whitish edges in young individuals ; chin, throat, lower breast, and abdomen white, feathers sometimes black-shafted; under wing-coverts always with whitish edges, especially near the bend of the wing.
Bill black ; iris dark brown ; legs and feet blackish purple.
Length about 8.5; tail 3; wing 8.5, tarsus 0.6. The tail is deeply forked, the outer feathers being about .75 inch longer than the middle pair.
Distribution. Europe as far north as the Alps, Northern Africa, South-western Asia, India, and Ceylon. This bird is resident, and breeds in the Himalayas, on rocky precipices amongst the Western Ghats, and doubtless in other hilly parts of the Peninsula. The nests and eggs have been taken by Miss Cockburn on the Nilgiris near Kotagiri, and nests have been seen by Mr. Davidson near Nasik, and by Mr. Littledale in Kashmir; whilst the hills of Ceylon (Legge), the cliffs of Gersoppa (Jerdon), Satara (Davidson), and Gawilgurh in Berar (McMaster) have been shown to be probable breeding-places. The Alpine Swift may be seen at times throughout the peninsula, and it has been recorded from Darjiling and Assam, but not farther east.
Habits, &c. This fine Swift is probably, with the exception of the larger species of Chaetura, the swiftest and most powerful flyer amongst birds. It roosts and breeds in companies on rocky cliffs, but flies enormous distances each day, generally in scattered flocks, and may be found hawking insects in the air hundreds of miles from its roosting-place. It has a shrill cry, often uttered during flight. The nests have walls about an inch thick made of feathers, dry grass, &c, firmly cemented together by the saliva of the birds ; they are 4 or 5 inches in diameter, not lined. Several nests are often clustered together. The eggs are laid in Europe about May and June; they are white, elongate, 3 or 4 in number, and measure about 1.2 by .75.
* The name Micropus, Meyer and Wolf, 1810, which has one year's priority over Cypselus has been substituted for the latter by some writers, and especially by Mr. Hartert in the British, Museum Catalogue, vol. xvi. But the existence of a Linnaean genus Micropus in Botany affords a fair reason for adhering to the well-known name of Cypselus for typical Swifts. The generic name Micropus (1837) used by Sharpe and Oates (ante, Vol. I. p. 294) for a genus of Bulbuls, is of later date than Meyer and Wolf's genus, and must be changed to Microtarsus, Eyton (1839).