Cook Islands Biodiversity & Natural Heritage

Aerodramus sawtelli

Kōpeka (AT)

Atiu Swiftlet

Multimedia & Additional Resources

Type Description Download
Open this image in pop-up window Image: Adult & juvenile on nest 51KB
Open this image in pop-up window Image: Close-up - echo-location feathers above eye 113KB
Open this image in pop-up window Image: Adult - wings and tail outspread 138KB
Open this image in pop-up window Image: Adult flying - view from the ground 134KB
Play this file in Windows Media Player Video: Nesting (© TVNZ) 663KB
Play this file in Windows Media Player Sound: Call on entering the cave (J.Fullard) 142KB
Play this file in Windows Media Player Sound: Call when landing on nest (J.Fullard) 133KB
Open this image in pop-up window Image: Compare White-rumped Swiftlet (Fiji) 28KB
Read this article Article: The Status of Cook Islands Birds - 1996 Open in new window
Gerald McCormack, September 2005

General Information

COMMON NAMES: Atiu Swiftlet; German Atiusalangane



COOK ISLANDS STATUS: Native, Resident Breeder, Endemic of Cooks; Land, inland volcanics and makatea; Breed in the dark interior of two caves, feed on flying insects mainly over the inland volcanics.

SIGNIFICANCE LIST: ; Globally endangered (seriously)Ecotourism

KEY FEATURES: To 15cm TL, 30cm wing span. Sexes similar. Body uniformly blackish-brown above, paler below; with a pale band over the base of the tail. Face blunt with short bill, and large protruding eye-brows; eyes black. Long curved wings, short tail. CALL shrill 'chreee' (when feeding); variable staccato clicks "chi--chi--chi-chi-chi" (within cave). BREEDING nests of woven plant fibre and lichens within caves. Both birds inubate and feed young. EGGS 1-2, unmarked white. Laying starts early September, first hatchlings beginning October and first fledglings mid-November - last fledglings in late March.

Enlarged Image of 'Aerodramus sawtelli'

Cook Islands Distribution

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Southern Group: Present    Makatea:

Northern Group: -

Key to Symbols

Scientific Taxonomy

Aerodramus sawtelli (Holyoak, 1974)
SYNONYMS: Aerodramus leucophaeus sawtelli; Collocalia sawtelli [O]

TAXONOMY: ANIMALIA; CHORDATA; GNATHOSTOMATA (Jawed Vertebrates); TETRAPODA; AVES; NEORNITHES; Apodiformes; APODIDAE. COMMENT: The swiftlets of Atiu, Tahiti and the Marquesas are more similar to each other than any to the west, as in Tonga. Most authorities accept the three swiftlets of Southeast Polynesia as separate species. However, Holyoak (1978) suggested that the three might be considered at near species level by naming them: $Aerodramus (leucophaeus) sawtelli@, $Aerodramus (leucophaeus) leucophaeus@, and $Aerodramus (leucophaeus) ocistus@.

More Information

BIODIVERSITY: Globally endangered (seriously). Comment: Nests in two caves: Ana Takitaki and Ana Tupurangi. Total nests: 190 (1987), 172 (1994) and 175 (1995). Population is small but relatively stable. In 1987 the 190 nests had 380 eggs and gave 114 fledglings - ie. 30% of the eggs produced a fledgling. 36% of the eggs disappeared, presumably victims of landcrab predation. Nest success was relatively low compared to other swiftlets.
POSITIVE SIGNIFICANCE: Ecotourism. Comments: Visiting the one of the breeding caves is an important visitor experience.

GENERAL NOTE: Atiu Swiftlets nest and roost in completely dark parts of caves. During the non-breeding season they typically leave in the morning between 6-7.30am and return in the evening between 6-7pm. During the breeding season they return about 6 times to feed their young. Outside the cave they never land. They use their excellent vision to catch flying insects over open areas and near trees. In the caves the birds echolocate using a series of audible clicks, which increase in frequency as they approach objects. The clicks have a single pulse of 2-3milliseconds duration. When they land the call clicks are lengthened and this may act as a warning announcement. Takitaki is an imitation of the sound of the swiftlet; and 'ana" means 'cave'. The most closely related swiftlets are the Tahiti Swiftlet (cliff-nesting and non-echolocating) and the Marquesas Swiftlet (cliff and cave-nesting, the latter echolocating). The White-rumped Swiftlet, eastward to Tonga, is cave-nesting and echolocating - having a two-pulse click. Swifts and swiftlets are fast fliers. The Needletailed Swift, possibly the fastest-flying bird in the world, can level flight at 170km/hr. The White-rumped Swiftlet of Tonga and Fiji accelerates up to 110km/hr as it enters its caves to avoid predation by Barn Owls.

Vouchers & References

None Recorded.

Special Reference: Holyoak D.T. (1974) Undescribed land birds from the Cook Islands, Pacific Ocean. Bull. Brit. Orn. Club 94:145-150. Tarburton, M.K. (1990) Breeding Biology of th Atiu Swiftlet. Emu 90:175-179. Fullard, J.H.; Barclay, M.R.; and Thomas, D.W. (1993) Echolocation in Free-flying Atiu Swiftlets (Aerodramus sawtelli) Biotropica 25(3):334-339. Holyoak, D.T. and Thibault, J.-C. (1987) Notes on the biology and systematics of Polynesian swiftlets, Aerodramus. Bull. Brit. Orn. Club 98(2):59-65.

Data Update History (information):
zTX, zB02, zM02, zD02

Web Resources

Citation Information

McCormack, Gerald (2007) Cook Islands Biodiversity Database, Version 2007.2. Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust, Rarotonga. Online at Copy citation to system clipboard
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