House Swift in the act of drinking water

on 6th January 2009

“Unlike Merops philippinus (Blue-tailed Bee-eater), Alcedo atthis (Common Kingfisher), Halcyon capensis (Stork-billed Kingfisher), Hirundo 
tahitica (Pacific Swallow) et al., apodids (swifts) do not seem to dive into water. It could be
 because their more rigid wings, as observed in flight, are not so amenable to generating the vertical thrust needed for leaving the
 water surface. They were never designed to take off from the ground into the air in the first place, let alone acceleration through the
far more viscous water.

“Apodid are, however, virtuosic drinkers. In a sigmoidal altitude
 profile, they descend rapidly from a great height and then level out gradually until only a matter of millimetres above the waves.

“As if
 choreographed in Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, the diminutive, almost vestigial, bill burgeons into a diabolical gape larger than the
girth of the bird’s body and scoops a mouthful of water from the lake.

“This photograph shows the gaping bill of Apus affinis (House Swift) immediately prior to impact. I also have photos showing what look like Collocalia maxima (Black-nest Swiftlet) doing the same.

“Other photos record the induction of turbulence during the actual gulp, similar to the effect of a speedboat’s bow cutting through the water, but these are in even worse focus than the above. The water makes an audible hiss as the lower mandible zooms through.”

Lin Yangchen
21st December 2008

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

2 responses

  1. hi,

    interested with ur photo of Black-nest Swiftlet as I am currently cracking my head on difficult swiftlets identification, but could get much photos to help me study their characteristics, illustrations on field guides are barely trustable.


  2. Pingback: sigmoidal

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