Plain Swift (Apus unicolor)

Plain Swift

[order] APODIFORMES | [family] Apodidae | [latin] Apus unicolor | [UK] Plain Swift | [FR] Martinet unicolore | [DE] Einfarb-Segler | [ES] Vencejo unicolor | [NL] Madeira-gierzwaluw


Monotypic species

Physical charateristics

Rather small, dark grey-brown swift, with grey chin and throat difficult to see.
Except in late autumn and early winter, Plain Swift restricted to Madeira and Canary Islands, which it shares with migrant Swift and breeding and migrant Pallid Swift. Overlap of 3 similar Apus swifts creates severe test in field identification, though this passable given lengthy comparison in good light and at close range.

wingspan min.: 38 cm wingspan max.: 39 cm
size min.: 14 cm size max.: 15 cm
incubation min.: 0 days incubation max.: 0 days
fledging min.: 0 days fledging max.: 0 days
broods: 2   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 3  


Africa : Morocco, Canary Islands, Madeira


Breeds in 2 small groups of subtropical mountainous oceanic islands, in which it forms counterpart to Cape Verde Swift. In Canary Islands breeds at higher altitude than congeners, in caves and crevices in walls of higher barrancos or ravines, foraging above pinewoods and skimming over Retama bushes in full bloom which attract insects. Usually at above 300 m; a high flier, mounting to become a mere speck in the sky or even beyond visual range. In Madeira, also frequents higher peaks and gullies or ribeiras in summer, nesting in deep clefts of rocks, but commonly nesting and roosting in some sea-cliffs, and even breeding on solitary rock in sea.


This species nests in small colonies, laying two eggs at a time. Two sets of eggs are frequently laid each year.

Feeding habits

It is endemic to Macaronesia in the Madeira and Canary archipelagos. Found throughout the island of Madeira all year round, although the population is smaller in winter. Has also been seen in Morocco in winter


Although this species may have a restricted range, it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size may be small, but it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Plain Swift status Least Concern


Largely migratory. Present all year on Madeira, numbers considerably reduced in winter though still quite common. Further south, on Canary Islands, largely migratory though winter status not clear: odd birds present at any time, but, at least occasionally, flocks occur in late December. Migratory birds depart September to mid-October and return January-March to mid-October. Winter quarters of emigrants unknown, but presumably in Africa; for winter occurrence in Morocco.

Distribution map

Plain Swift distribution range map

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