Bird Families

A mustached tree swift, or a mustache swift, a species of bird of the tree swift family

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Mustachioed tree swift

A mustached tree swift, or a mustached swift, is a species of bird of the tree swift family. The bird is medium in size with a weak crest on the head, but long bright white whiskers and eyebrows. The plumage is gray-blue, paler below. In males, ear coverts are dark red, in females - black-green. The tail is forked. The mustachioed tree swift lives on the island of New Guinea, the Moluccas, the Bismarck archipelago and the Solomon Islands, prefers the crowns of trees protruding above the forest canopy. It feeds on flying insects. Builds small nests on thin branches, lays one egg.

The mustachioed tree swift was first described by the French naturalists René Primevere Lesson and Prosper Garneau in 1827. At the moment, six subspecies are known.

1. Description

Graceful bird of medium size, body length 28 - 31 cm according to other sources, up to 33 cm. The crest is weakly expressed. Males of mustachioed swift have long bright white whiskers and eyebrows, markedly contrasting with a shiny black stripe from the cheek along the jaw and along the sides of the neck, ear coverts are dark red. The plumage of birds is gray-blue above, paler or light brown below, belly and undertail are white. Females hardly differ in plumage from males, but ear coverts are colored black-green. In juveniles, the plumage of the head and body is motley, with zones of black, red, dark yellow or white, while the top of the bird is mostly black, the forehead, cheekbones and head-flanks are creamy red. In addition, in young birds the tail length is up to 85% of the wing length. By their first winter, juveniles acquire adult body plumage, but retain the juvenile plumage of the tail and wings. The molt of adult birds differs from other representatives of the suborder Apodes swift: it starts from two centers and spreads independently to the outer edge and to the body. This mechanism allows the birds to complete the molting process more quickly, and also retains a large number of sufficiently fresh feathers for flight.

The moustached swift is the largest member of the tree swift genus. The size of birds varies greatly in different subspecies, while individuals of the nominative subspecies are generally larger than the rest, and H. m. carbonaria is smaller. The wing length of birds of the nominative subspecies is 221 - 237 mm, H. m. confirmata - 208 - 236 mm, H. m. aeroplanes - 209 - 230 mm, H. m. macrura - 216 - 226 mm, H. m. woodfordiana - 195 - 217 mm. Moreover, H. m. macrura has the longest tail - 188 - 203 mm versus 164 - 197 mm in the nominative subspecies. In addition, there are slight differences in color: H. m. aeroplanes and H. m. macrura lighter plumage below, but less white under tail, H. m. carbonaria has uniformly dark plumage including belly and undertail, H. m. woodfordiana also has dark plumage, but a slightly white undertail. Tertiary flight feathers are slightly white. The distance between the tips of the fourth and fifth outer rudders is the largest among the family and is 60 mm.

The mass of the bird is 56 - 79 g. Comparative analysis of the ratio of mass to wingspan has shown that the load on the wing of a mustachioed swift is noticeably less than that of comparable representatives of the genus Spiny-tailed Swifts Hirundapus or larger representatives of the genus Common Swifts Apus. As a result, mustachioed swifts glide rather than flap their wings in flight.

Like other swifts, representatives of this species have a wide mouth with corners extending far beyond the line of the eyes, paws and a short beak of black or dark purple color. The eyes are very large, dark brown. Perhaps this eye size is due to the fact that birds mostly feed late in the evening.

The mustachioed tree swift emits various sound signals both in flight and while sitting on a branch. The most common calls seem to be the shrill descending "kiiee", "whiiee" or ascending "owi-wi-wi-wi", slightly reminiscent of the calls of birds of prey, in particular the Accipiter hawks, and the repetitive "ki-ki-" or "cha-cha-cha-", which resemble terns. It is possible that additional calls were recorded in New Britain: a sharp "peeu" on a branch and a series of four squeaky signals in flight.

2. Dissemination

The mustachioed tree swift lives on the island of New Guinea, the Moluccas, the Bismarck archipelago and the Solomon Islands. The total area of ​​the range is 3,420,000 km² and includes the territories of three countries - Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. The mustachioed swift lives in the crowns of trees protruding above the forest canopy, in mangroves and coastal forests, on freestanding trees, or at the edge of the gallery forest in the savannah. Height above sea level varies greatly and on average ranges from zero to 1580 meters, while birds rise to a height of 450 meters on Halmahera Island, 700 meters on Buru Island, 750 meters on Seram Island, 1200 meters on New Guinea Island. Record marks were probably recorded in the Maoke Mountains at 4,400 meters.

The mustachioed swift belongs to the species of least concern. There is no information on the total number of individual subspecies. New Guinea continues to provide landscapes for this species, but on some islands, especially in the Wallacea region, forest damage may affect bird numbers. Traditional bird hunting in western New Guinea may also have an impact on the moustached swift population.

Possible migrations of baleen tree swifts are poorly understood. Birds are mostly sedentary, but in some places they can migrate. Flights over 3,000 meters to the snow-capped Maoke Mountains in western New Guinea remain questionable.

The habitats of the mustachioed arboreal swift and the glittering clehoe Hemiprocne longipennis are separated by a water boundary to the west of the Moluccan Islands; birds do not share the territory with other arboreal swifts.

3. Nutrition

The mustachioed tree swift feeds on flying insects measuring 6 - 18 mm, including bees, ants, hemiptera, coleoptera, in particular, representatives of the family of true shield bugs Pentatomidae, while it is not clear how birds cope with their poison and other chemical protection.

Birds are mainly active at dusk or even in the dark, less often in the daytime, in particular after rain. Usually they feed in small flocks of 10 - 20 individuals, but sometimes the size of the flock is hundreds of birds and can reach 2000 individuals, as was recorded in the west of Papua New Guinea. The birds sit on open branches at the edge of the forest, make long flights for insects, mainly over the crowns of trees, but sometimes find food right at the surface of the earth, after which they return to their favorite branches. Birds can sit on wires if they pass through their traditional habitats.

4. Reproduction

The breeding season of the mustachioed tree swift is highly variable, in particular around Port Moresby it occurs in the middle or end of the dry season, and in some other regions during the rainy season. In general, this species can lay eggs almost throughout the year, with the exception of March, in which not a single active nest was recorded. Birds mate on a branch. Probably, they can make a second clutch in the same nest.

A miniature flat nest is usually built on a horizontal branch up to 12 meters above the ground, although in some cases an almost vertical surface was used.The nest is built from feathers and plant materials held together by saliva. The nest resembles a twig on a branch; a sitting bird completely hides it under itself. Nests are located far from each other; in the vicinity of the nest, birds are considered territorial.

The pair lays one egg measuring 29 - 33 × 20 - 21 mm. The egg is located in the nest strictly vertically and, probably, is glued to it with saliva without additional fixation, it would not have been able to stay in such an open flat nest. Both parents are engaged in incubation of eggs, while the second bird sits in close proximity, but not touching the hen. The chicks of the mustachioed swift have gray skin and are rather densely covered with gray down. Females are mainly engaged in raising chicks. The total duration of the incubation and rearing period for chicks exceeds 60 days.

On average, the female is able to lay eggs for 7.5 years.

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