Hirundo Linnaeus, 1758
Systema Naturae ed.10 p.191
The Lesser Striped Swallow (The bird genus Hirundo is a group of passerines in the family Hirundinidae (swallows and martins). These are the typical swallows, including the widespread Barn Swallow. Many of this group have blue backs, red on the face and sometimes the rump or nape, and whitish or rufous underparts.
All of the species are found in the Old World, although one, the Barn Swallow, is cosmopolitan, also occurring in the Americas.
Genetic evidence has recently shown that many of the species previously included in Hirundo are less closely related than their appearance might suggest; these species are sometimes treated in the separate genera Cecropis (e.g. Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica, previously Hirundo daurica) and Petrochelidon (e.g. Cliff Swallow Petrochelidon pyrrhonota, previously Hirundo pyrrhonota); they are as distinct from typical Hirundo as the House Martins in the genus Delichon.
* Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
This is a bird of wooded, mainly lowland habitats, and is replaced in montane grassland by the Greater Striped Swallow, Hirundo cucullata. It is often found around human habitation. The Lesser Striped Swallow builds a bowl-shaped mud nest with a tubular entrance on the underside of a suitable structure. The nest has a soft lining, and may be reused in later years. The nest may be built in a cave or under a rock overhang or a tree branch. This species has benefited from its willingness to use buildings, bridges, culverts and similar structures. Given the choice, it will select a high nest site.
The eggs are glossy white sometimes with a few brown spots; three eggs is a typical clutch. Incubation is by the female alone for 14–16 days to hatching. Both parents then feed the chicks. Fledging takes another 17–19 days, but the young birds will return to the nest to roost for a few days after the first flight.
Lesser Swallow is 15–10 cm long. It has dark blue upperparts with a red rump and a rufous-chestnut crown, nape and sides of the head. The underparts are white with dark streaking, and the upper wings and underwing flight feathers are blackish-brown. The underwing coverts are tawny. The blackish tail has very long outer feathers; these are slightly longer in the male than the female. Juveniles are duller and browner, with less contrast and shorter outer tail feathers. There are five or six subspecies differing in the extent of the underpart streaking
Lesser Striped Swallow has heavier and darker underparts striping, a deeper red rump, and a brighter head colour than the larger Greater Striped Swallow. Lesser also prefers less open habitats.
Lesser Striped Swallow is common, and has benefited from the availability of nest sites around habitation. It feeds mainly on flying insects, but has been known to eat small fruits. The flight is erratic, and the call is a nasal zeh zeh zeh zeh zeh.
* Sinclair, Hockey and Tarboton, SASOL Birds of Southern Africa, ISBN 1-86872-721-1
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