Welcome swallow (Hirundo neoxena)
|Synonyms:||Hirundo tahitica neoxena|
|Size||Length: 13 - 17 cm (2)|
|Weight||12 - 17.3 g (2) (3)|
- The welcome swallow is named for the fact that it is welcomed as a herald of spring across much of Australia.
- The male and female welcome swallow are similar in appearance, but the male has a longer, more deeply forked tail.
- Since the 1950s, the welcome swallow has extended its range outside of Australia into New Zealand and some island groups.
- The welcome swallow now commonly nests on artificial structures such as buildings, culverts and bridges, rather than on natural cliffs and caves.
- A pair of welcome swallows will usually return to the same site to breed in successive years.
The welcome swallow is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).
A medium-sized swallow species (3), the welcome swallow (Hirundo neoxena) is named for the fact that it is welcomed as a herald of spring across much of its Australian range (4).
The adult welcome swallow has glossy steel-blue upperparts, greyish-white underparts and a reddish-brown forehead, chin, throat and upper breast. The sides of the body have a slight brown tinge, while the wings and tail are a darker blackish-brown, with a small white patch near the ends of all but the central feathers (2) (3) (4). The tail of the welcome swallow is deeply forked (2) (3).
The male and female welcome swallow are similar in appearance, but the male is usually slightly larger than the female and has a longer, more deeply forked tail (2) (3). Both sexes have a black bill, dark brown eyes, and dark blackish legs and feet (3) (4). The juvenile welcome swallow is duller and browner than the adult, its reddish-brown areas are paler, and it has a shorter tail (2) (3).
Two subspecies of welcome swallow are currently recognised, with Hirundo neoxena carteri being slightly larger than Hirundo neoxena neoxena, although the differences between the two are not well defined (2). A third subspecies, Hirundo neoxena parsonsi, has also been proposed, based on individuals with less white in the tail (2) (3). However, this subspecies is not generally recognised (2). Although it has sometimes been considered to be the same species as the Pacific swallow (Hirundo tahitica) (5), the welcome swallow can be distinguished by its paler underparts and longer outer tail feathers. The welcome swallow also resembles the barn swallow (Hirundo rustica), but lacks a dark breast band (2) (3).
The calls of the welcome swallow include a sharp ‘twsee’, ‘sweert’ or ‘tit-swee’ alarm call, and a single ‘seet’ call that is usually given in flight, while its song is a high-pitched mixture of twittering and trills (2) (3).
The welcome swallow occurs across western, southern, central and eastern Australia, as well as in Tasmania. Since the 1950s, this species has extended its range into New Zealand, and it has also recently been recorded in New Guinea, New Caledonia and on other nearby island groups, such as the Chatham Islands and Auckland Island. The subspecies H. n. carteri breeds only in Western Australia (2) (3).
Although the welcome swallow is resident year-round in some areas, such as in Western Australia, other populations are either partially or largely migratory, moving north in winter and returning to southern areas to breed in the spring. In Tasmania, some birds migrate north while others remain in Tasmania over winter (2) (3).
The welcome swallow is common in a wide range of habitats, although it tends to avoid forest and desert (3). This species can be found in open country, along coasts and coastal cliffs, on farmland and even around human habitations, and it often occurs near water, such as rivers, lakes and ponds (2) (3).
The diet of the welcome swallow comprises a large variety of insects, including flies, beetles, bugs, caddis flies, dragonflies, moths and wasps. This species usually forages alone or in small groups, flying low and fast over the ground and making frequent twists and turns to catch its insect prey. The welcome swallow may also follow other animals, including other birds, to take insects they disturb, and has been recorded feeding at night on moths attracted to lights. Outside of the breeding season, the welcome swallow may gather and roost in large flocks of up to 500 individuals (2) (3).
The breeding season of the welcome swallow runs from July to April, with a peak in breeding activity between September and October (2) (3). Breeding tends to occur earlier inland than on the coast (2). During courtship, the male welcome swallow engages in chases and aerial displays, usually fanning its long tail feathers (2) (3), and the male and female may perch together, twittering to each other (3).
The welcome swallow typically breeds in solitary pairs or sometimes in small, loose groups (2) (3), and each pair aggressively defends the area around its nest (3). The nest is built by both sexes and is usually located on a vertical surface close to an overhang, such as on a wall, cliff, cave or hollow tree, or more commonly on an artificial structure such as a building, culvert, bridge, jetty, veranda, water tank or mine shaft. The welcome swallow builds its nest from mud pellets mixed with grass, and lines it with dry grass, roots, hair and feathers. The nest takes between 6 and 24 days to build, but old nests are repaired and re-used in subsequent years (2) (3).
The female welcome swallow lays a clutch of two to seven eggs, although four to five is most common (2). The eggs are incubated by the female for 14 to 19 days, and both adults feed the chicks, which fledge at 18 to 23 days old. After leaving the nest, the young welcome swallows continue to be fed by the adults and often return to the nest to roost at night for the first few days, or sometimes for the first few weeks. The adult birds may go on to raise a second or even a third brood in the same season, and usually return to the same site to breed in successive years (2) (3).
The welcome swallow is a widespread and abundant species, and is not currently considered to be at risk of extinction (5). This small bird has extended its range outside of Australia in recent decades, first breeding in New Zealand around 1958, and more recently being recorded in New Guinea, New Caledonia and other island groups. Its populations in New Zealand are still believed to be spreading (2) (3).
As well as benefitting from the presence of artificial nest sites (2) (3), the welcome swallow may also have spread in response to the expansion of farmland (2).
There are no specific conservation measures currently known to be in place for the welcome swallow.
Find out more about the welcome swallow and its conservation:
BirdLife International - Welcome swallow:
More information on conservation in Australia:
Australian Wildlife Conservancy:
Australian Conservation Foundation:
- Incubate: to keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- Subspecies: a population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
IUCN Red List (September, 2012)
- del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Christie, D. (2004) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 9: Cotingas to Pipits and Wagtails. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
- Turner, A. and Rose, C. (1989) A Handbook to the Swallows and Martins of the World. A&C Black Publishers, London.
- Gould, J. (1842) Descriptions of thirty new species of birds from Australia. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 1842: 131-140.
BirdLife International (September, 2012)