Ian’s Bird of the Week – White-rumped/Australian Swiftlet ~ by Ian Montgomery
Newsletter ~ 6-22-10
Swifts, true to their name, are a challenge to photograph but these White-rumped/Australian Swiftlets (more about names later) were feeding low over of a group of smallish trees, which helped.
These tiny birds (11-12cm/4.3-4.7in in length) are resident in Australia unlike their larger cousins, the Fork-tailed Swift and White-throated Needletail, and usually remain fairly close to their breeding caves. They are reasonably common in their restricted range of coastal northeastern Australia from the far north of New South Wales to Cape York in northern Queensland. Their sedentary nature is reflected in the existence of a paler race in the Chillagoe region of northeastern Queensland, only 130 km from the coast as the swift flies and much closer to the Atherton Tableland, where the nominate race is found.
Some species of swiftlet, including this one, use echo-location like bats to find their way around in caves, emitting a metallic clicking noise. There are about 26 species of swiftlet in Asia and Oceania, but only some if these echo-locate. Originally, they were (nearly) all put in the same genus Collocalia but in 1970, those species that use echo-location were moved to a separate genus Aerodramus. The White-rumped Swiftlet, Collocalia spodiopygius, was renamed Aerodramus spodiopygius.
This was the start of a bumpy ride in the naming of these Australian swiftlets, which were then considered the same species as similar birds found in Micronesia and Polynesia. Recent DNA analysis supported the split into Aerodramus, but also suggested that the Australian birds (races terraereginae and chillagoensis) were sufficiently different to be treated as a separate species. Christidis and Boles (2008) support this recognition of the Australian Swiftlet, now named Aerodramus terraereginae. Meanwhile, Birdlife International has adopted neither the original split of Collocalia nor the recognition of the new species. So, we now have the confusion situation where both the English and Scientific names differ. So you could have someone from Birdlife International birdwatching in Queensland and saying ‘there is a White-rumped Swiftlet, Collocalia spodiopygius’ to Les Christidis who might respond, ‘looks like an Australian Swiftlet, Aerodramus terraereginae, to me!’.
And while we’re at it, terraereginae isn’t such a great name anyway, as It, whatever ‘It’ is, also occurs in northern New South Wales. Let me quote from an article in Wikipedia discussing the strengths of Linnaean taxonomy: ‘it can be used to organize the different kinds of living organisms, simply and practically. Every species can be given a unique (and hopefully stable) name, as compared with common names that are often neither unique nor consistent from place to place and language to language’. Hmmmm.
Back at the website, I hope I’ve finally reformatted all the pages that were causing problems in early versions of Internet Explorer. If you come across any that I’ve missed, please let me know (gently). I’ve resumed updating the family index pages and species galleries.
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Phone: +61-7 4751 3115
Preferred Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ian is having the same problems I am trying to keep up with the renaming and splitting and lumping of species. Keeps you busy when you have a website. Anyway, it is always interesting to see what bird Ian is going to expose us to each week. Hope you enjoy his newsletters as well as I do.
Even the stork in the heavens Knows her appointed times; And the turtledove, the swift, and the swallow Observe the time of their coming. But My people do not know the judgment of the LORD. (Jeremiah 8:7 NKJV)
The White-rumped (ex-Australian) Swiftlet (Aerodramus spodiopygius) is in the Apodidae Family. The Swiftlets, Swifts, Spinetails, Needletails, and Palm Swifts make up the family.
So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; (James 1:19 NKJV)