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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

BirdNote®/ White-throated Swifts

Air Date: Week of July 29, 2011

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White-throated swifts sail through the air. As BirdNote®’s Mary McCann tells us, they’re one of the world’s fastest birds. Photo: A white-throated swift in flight. (© Greg Lavaty)



GELLERMAN: Today's Birdnote® takes us to the U.S. West - and profiles a bird that delights many who hike the region’s canyons. Here's Mary McCann.


MCCANN: A torrent of shrill notes ricochets off the sheer, stone walls of a Western canyon.


MCCANN: A pair of White-throated Swifts careens by at high speed, revealing boldly patterned bodies. They twist and turn, sailing through the air on black, scimitar-shaped wings spanning 15 inches. Dashing headlong across the canyon toward an unyielding wall, the birds disappear at the last second into a slender crevice.


A white-throated swift approaches a nest crevice. (© Howie Richardson)

MCCANN: This swift is aptly named – and doubly so. Flying at tremendous speed, the White-throated Swift is indeed swift, among the fastest of all birds. And its lyrical, scientific name suits it perfectly: Aeronautes saxatalis* – sailor of the air who dwells in the rocks.


MCCANN: Swifts leave the air only to nest or roost in a cavity. You’ll never see one perched. They do everything else while airborne. Ornithologist Percy Taverner said of them, “When mating, a pair meet…high in the air, cling together as though embracing for a moment …drop down hundreds of feet, then separate and catch themselves on their wings…”


GELLERMAN: Mary McCann of BirdNote®. For some great photos swoop over to our website – loe.org.



White-throated Swift sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by R.S. Little.

BirdNote®/White-throated swifts was written by Bob Sundstrom.


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