Mobile Menu Open Mobile Menu Close

APODIFORMES Owlet-nightjars and swifts

The information presented here is identical to that contained in the fifth edition of the Checklist of the Birds of New Zealand (Checklist Committee 2022). To access a pdf version of the Checklist click here.

Symbols and Abbreviations
➤ Indicates a species (cf. subspecies)
† Indicates an extinct taxon
NMNZ, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington

SEARCH: To search for a word or phrase, use Ctrl-F to create a search box.

Order APODIFORMES: Swifts, Hummingbirds, and Owlet-nightjars

The 2010 Checklist followed G. Mayr (2002, 2005), G. Mayr et al. (2003), and Barrowclough et al. (2006) in moving owlet-nightjars (Aegothelidae) from Caprimulgiformes (nightjars) to Apodiformes. Simonetta (1967) was the first authority to conclude that owlet-nightjars were not closely related to true nightjars, and suggested that Aegotheles was more closely related to basal or primitive apodids. The differences were so profound that Simonetta (1967: 31) erected the suborder Aegothelae for the family. Sibley et al. (1988) also placed Aegotheles at suborder level, based on DNA evidence, calling the group Aegotheli, apparently unaware of Simonetta’s (1967) name. More recent osteological and genetic studies (e.g. G. Mayr 2002, 2005; G. Mayr et al. 2003; Barrowclough et al. 2006) provide overwhelming evidence that the Caprimulgiformes (sensu del Hoyo et al. 1999) is paraphyletic, and that Aegothelidae forms a clade with Apodiformes – Hemiprocnidae and Apodidae (swifts) and Trochilidae (hummingbirds) – outside the other members of Caprimulgiformes. Many additional studies (reviewed by Sangster 2005) have supported this relationship. Sangster (2005) gave the non-Linnaean name Daedalornithes for the clade of Apodiformes and Aegotheles; however, the relationship can be as easily accommodated by transferring Aegothelae to the Apodiformes (Barrowclough et al. 2006). Recent genetic studies have either supported the sister relationship of owlet-nightjars and swifts, with this clade nested within a paraphyletic, expanded Caprimulgiformes (Sigurdsson 2013; Yuri et al. 2013), or have suggested that owlet-nightjars and night-jars are sister-groups and more closely related to owls than to swifts (Liu et al. 2019). Several authors have recommended elevating Aegothelidae to their own order (Aegotheliformes; see Yuri et al. 2013; Prum et al. 2015; Chen et al. 2019). We have retained Aegothelidae within Apodiformes pending further studies or greater consensus.

Suborder AEGOTHELAE: Owlet-nightjars

Family AEGOTHELIDAE Bonaparte: Owlet-nightjars

Aegothelinae Bonaparte, 1853: Compt. Rend. Séa. Acad. Sci., Paris 37(18): 645 – Type genus Aegotheles Vigors & Horsfield, 1827.

Genus Aegotheles Vigors & Horsfield

Aegotheles Vigors & Horsfield, 1826: Trans. Linn. Soc. London 15(1): 194 – Type species (by monotypy) Caprimulgus novaehollandiae Latham = Aegotheles cristatus (White).

Euaegotheles Mathews, 1918: Birds Australia 7: 52 – Type species (by original designation) Batrachostomus psilopterus G.R. Gray = Aegotheles crinifrons (Bonaparte).

Megaegotheles Scarlett, 1968: Notornis 15: 254 – Type species (by monotypy) Megaegotheles novaezealandiae Scarlett = Aegotheles novaezealandiae (Scarlett).

Potts (1871, 1873) described a small bird from locations in both Canterbury and Westland that he considered was either a small owl or a member of Podargidae. It was poorly described and no specimen was kept, but it was described as the size of a kingfisher and of very gentle nature. It is possible that this bird was Aegotheles novaezealandiae, not otherwise recorded alive. The use of the name Strix parvissima by Ellman (1861) suggests that this bird was known several years before Potts (1871). However, in the absence of an adequate description these records are unidentifiable, and the following names are nomina dubia:
Strix parvissima Ellman, 1861: Zoologist 19: 7465. Nomen dubium.
Strix parvissima Potts, 1871: Trans. N.Z. Inst. 2: 68 – Rangitata River, Canterbury. Nomen dubium.
Athene (Strix) parvissima Potts; Potts 1873, Trans. N.Z. Inst. 5: 172. Nomen dubium.

Aegotheles novaezealandiae (Scarlett)
New Zealand Owlet-nightjar | Ruru Hinapō

Megaegotheles novaezealandiae Scarlett, 1968: Notornis 15: 254 – Canaan, Takaka, Nelson.

Aegotheles novaezealandiae (Scarlett); Olson, Balouet & Fisher 1987, Gerfaut 77: 349.

Aegotheles novaezelandiae (Scarlett); Tennyson & Martinson 2006, Extinct Birds of New Zealand: 104. Unjustified emendation (see Murdoch 2008, Notornis 55: 228).

Extinct. Widespread in Late Pleistocene and Holocene deposits (particularly caves) in the North and South Islands; rarely recorded from middens (Worthy & Holdaway 2002). Larger than Aegotheles of Australia and probably flightless or nearly so (xRich & Scarlett 1977). Olson et al. (1987) synonymised Megaegotheles with Aegotheles. The phylogeny of Aegothelidae was assessed based on mtDNA sequences, and A. novaezealandiae shown to be the sister taxon of A. savesi from New Caledonia; together they are basal in the genus (Dumbacher et al. 2003).

Suborder APODI: Swifts and Treeswifts

Family APODIDAE Olphe-Galliard: Swifts

Subfamily APODINAE Olphe-Galliard: Swiftlets, Spinetails, and Typical Swifts

Apodidae Olphe-Galliard, 1887: Contrib. Faune Ornith. Europe Occidentale 22: 90 – Type genus Apus Scopoli, 1777.

The order of species follows Christidis & Boles (1994, 2008) and Schodde (1997b).

Tribe CHAETURINI: Needletails

Chaetureae Bonaparte, 1857: Rivista Contemporanea, Torino 9: 212 – Type genus Chaetura Stephens, 1826.

Genus Hirundapus Hodgson

Hirundapus Hodgson, 1837: Journ. Asiatic Soc. Bengal 5: 780 – Type species (by original designation) Hirundapus nudipes Hodgson = Hirundapus caudacutus nudipes Hodgson.

 Hirundapus caudacutus (Latham)
White-throated Needletail

Breeds from western Siberia east to Japan and south to Taiwan, Burma, and the Himalayas (Higgins 1999). Two subspecies. Nominate race a long-distance migrant to New Guinea and Australia. Also called spine-tailed swift.

Hirundapus caudacutus caudacutus (Latham)
White-throated Needletail

Hirundo caudacuta Latham, 1801: Index Ornith. Suppl.: lvii – “Nova Hollandia”, restricted to New South Wales, Australia (fide Schodde 1997, Zool. Cat. Australia 37.2: 341).

Choetura [sic] caudacuta (Latham); Buller 1905, Suppl. Birds N.Z. 1: 95.

Chaetura caudacuta caudacuta (Latham); Mathews & Iredale 1913, Ibis 1 (10th series): 428.

Hirundapus caudacutus caudacutus (Latham); Checklist Committee 1990, Checklist Birds N.Z.: 188.

Hirundapus caudacutus (Latham); J. Moore 1999, Notornis 46: 363.

Breeds from western Siberia and Mongolia to Sakhalin, Kurile Islands, Manchuria, and Japan (Higgins 1999). Migrates through China to winter in New Guinea and Australia (including Tasmania) from Oct. to Mar.–Apr. (Higgins 1999). Straggler to New Zealand: many records from 1888 (mainly between Nov. and Apr.), mostly in the North Island but as far south as the Snares Islands / Tini Heke and Auckland Islands / Maukahuka (Miskelly et al. 2001a; Miskelly, Elliott et al. 2020); also Chatham Islands (Scofield 2005a; Miskelly et al. 2006). Irruptions noted in some years (1942–43, 1968–69, 2020, including a flock of 80 at Upper Moutere, Tasman, Feb. 2020: McCaskill 1943; Miskelly, Crossland et al. 2021). Vagrant to Macquarie Island (e.g. Jan. 1960; Warham 1961). Irregular migrant on Norfolk Island (Schodde et al. 1983).

Tribe APODINI: Typical Swifts

Apodidae Olphe-Galliard, 1887: Contrib. Faune Ornith. Europe Occidentale 22: 90 – Type genus Apus Scopoli, 1777.

Genus Apus Scopoli

Apus Scopoli, 1777: Intro. Hist. Nat.: 483 – Type species (by tautonymy) Hirundo apus Linnaeus = Apus apus (Linnaeus).

Micropus Wolf, 1810: in Meyer & Wolf, Tasch. Dtsch. Vögelk. 1: 280 – Type species (by original designation) Hirundo apus Linnaeus = Apus apus (Linnaeus).

Cypselus Illiger, 1811: Prodromus Syst. Mamm. Avium: 229 – Type species (by subsequent designation) Hirundo apus Linnaeus = Apus apus (Linnaeus).

 Apus pacificus (Latham)
Fork-tailed Swift

Breeds in Siberia, China, Japan, Taiwan, Indochina, Malaysia, and west to India, Tibet, and the Himalayas (Higgins 1999). Migratory or sedentary. Four subspecies.

Apus pacificus pacificus (Latham)
Fork-tailed Swift

Hirundo pacifica Latham, 1801: Index Ornith. Suppl.: lviii – “Nova Hollandia”, restricted to New South Wales, Australia (fide Schodde 1997, Zool. Cat. Australia 37.2: 344).

Micropus pacificus Blyth [sic]; Hutton 1904, Index Faunae N.Z.: 37.

Cypselus pacificus (Latham); Buller 1905, Suppl. Birds N.Z. 1: 95.

Apus pacificus (Latham); Mathews & Iredale 1913, Ibis 1 (10th series): 428.

Apus pacificus pacificus (Latham); Checklist Committee 1953, Checklist N.Z. Birds: 57.

Apus (Apus) pacificus pacificus (Latham); Schodde 1997, Zool. Cat. Australia 37.2: 344.

Breeds in north-east Asia, including Japan and Korea. Winters in New Guinea and Australia (including Tasmania) from Oct. to Apr. (Higgins 1999). Straggler to New Zealand: at least 15 records since 1884 from both main islands; also Three Kings Islands / Manawatāwhi (Medway 2001c), Chatham Islands (Guest 1992; Miskelly et al. 2006), and Antipodes Islands (Medway 2003a). Many sightings have been between Oct. and Mar., but others, surprisingly, have been in May, Jun., Jul., Aug. and Sep. Occasional vagrant to Macquarie Island (e.g. Dec. 1958; J. Gibson 1959). Irregular migrant to Norfolk Island (Schodde et al. 1983).