Physical characteristics: The African palm swift is about 6.1 inches long (16 centimeters) and weighs from 0.4 to 0.5 ounces (10 to 14 grams). The palm swift has gray-brown plumage. The head and wings are darker than the pale under parts, and some birds have streaks of color on their throats. In male birds the throat is whiter than in female swifts.
Geographic range: African palm swifts live in sub-Saharan Africa, south of the Sahara Desert. These nations include Namibia, Madagascar, and South Africa.
Habitat: African palm swifts live in grassland and other areas where there are palm trees. Birds build nests on the underside of palm leaves, and sometimes on structures like bridges.
Diet: African palm swifts eat insects, flying ants, beetles, termites, and spiders.
Behavior and reproduction: African palm swifts are active during the daytime and return at sunset to their nests in the leaves of palm trees. Birds mate and nest on the underside (back) of palm fronds.
These swifts build nests with feathers that they collect while flying, and use saliva to attach the feathers to the palm. The nest is a vertical platform. During the night, the male and female birds roost (rest). They hold onto the nest with their toes when they mate.
The female goes to the top of the platform to lay eggs. After laying an egg, she pushes it into the nest and "glues" it to the palm leaf with her saliva. She then lays another egg and repeats the process.
The female lays a clutch of one to three eggs. The eggs hatch in about twenty days. Young palm swifts fledge, or grow feathers in thirty-one to thirty-three days.
Risks to palm swifts include loss of habitat when people strip (remove) palm leaves.
African palm swifts and people: African palm swifts eat insects that people regard as pests, and the birds are a tourist attraction in Namibia.
Conservation status: African palm swifts are not in danger of extinction. ■
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Attenborough, David. The Life of Birds. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998.
Baicich, Paul J., and Colin J. O. Harrison. A Guide to the Nests, Eggs and Nestlings of North American Birds. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1997.
Sibley, David Allen. The Sibley Guide to Birds. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.
Wells, Diana. 100 Birds and How They Got Their Names. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 2002.
North American Chimney Swift Nest Research Project. http://www. concentric.net/~dwa/page6.html (accessed on May 26, 2004).
"Palm Stripping Destroys Swifts' Nesting Places." The Free Press of Namibia (February 27, 2003) Online at http://www.namibian.com.na/ 2003/February/environment/03B8B156C8.html (accessed on May 26, 2004).
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