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Notes on the behaviour, plumage and distribution of the White-tailed Swallow Hirundo megaensis

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Bladon, Andrew J 
Töpfer, Till 
Collar, Nigel J 
Gedeon, Kai 
Donald, Paul F 


The White-tailed Swallow Hirundo megaensis is a threatened and poorly known bird endemic to southern Ethiopia, where it is restricted to a small area of Acacia savanna. Despite the paucity of previous nest records, we found 67 nests in the years 2010–14, commonly in village huts lived in by people, and report the first confirmation of nesting (two certain records) in termite mounds. Its nests are small mud cups lined with grass and animal hair, fixed to roof joists and similar to those of its sister species, the Pearl-breasted Swallow H. dimidiata of southern Africa, although it appears to lay larger clutches (3–4 pure white eggs) and breed less frequently, producing one brood in each of its two rain-driven breeding seasons (April–June and October–November). The same nests are reportedly used in these two seasons, presumably by the same pairs. Incubation lasts 16–17 days, with some broods showing clearly smaller chicks and hence presumably asynchronous hatching. Study of nestlings in the hand and museum skins confirmed that juveniles can be determined by their shorter tails, browner heads and frequently also wings, and reduced white in the tail. Although birds are typically seen singly or in pairs, flocks of up to 50, sometimes mixed with other hirundines, can occur. The breeding range appears to be almost identical to that of the Ethiopian Bush-crow Zavattariornis stresemanni but regular sightings of White-tailed Swallows since 2005 at the Liben Plain, 120 km to the east of the core area, suggest that the birds are frequent visitors there.



Journal Title

Bulletin of the African Bird Club

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African Bird Club

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NERC (1210186)
We are grateful to the numerous funding bodies which have supported this research over several years: NERC, RSPB, British Birdfair, African Bird Club, British Ornithologists’ Union, Gesellschaft für Tropenornithologie, Tim Whitmore Zoology Fund, Magdalene College (Cambridge), Cambridge Philosophical Society, and BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme; and especially to Julian Francis. We also thank Robert Prys-Jones at the Natural History Museum (NHMUK) for access to specimens; Les Colley for his photograph used in Fig. 5; Stefanie Rick for her excellent drawings used in Fig. 9; Steve Rooke (Sunbird Tours), Bernard, Willem and Sjoerd Oosterbaan, Simon Busuttil, Merid Gabremichael and Claire Spottiswoode for providing additional information and sightings; Alazar Dakar, Abiy Dange, Birhan Dessalegn, Solomon Desta, Okotu Dida, Ali Guche, Sam Jones, Gufu Kashina, Stuart Marsden, Tesfaye Mekonnen, Samson Zelleke and many others including all the staff of Borana National Park for help with fieldwork; Angela Turner and John Atkins for their services as referees; and the Borana villagers who so kindly allowed us into their homes to study the White-tailed Swallow’s nests and without whose hospitality our knowledge of this species would be much poorer.