Order: Apodiformes

Family: Apordidae

Scientific name: Hirundapus giganteus, Temminck, 1825

IUCN Red list status-Least Concern

Did you know?

  1. Brown-backed Needletail is also known as Giant Needletail and Giant Spinetail Swift.
  2. Brown-backed Needletail spends most of their life time flying.
  3. Brown-backed Needletail is the largest among the needletails found in India.


The Brown-backed Needletail is a large swift, measuring about 25 cm in length and 120 to 170 grams weight. The overall plumage is brownish black and the under tail is white. The white patch extends to the flanks. The legs are very short, used only for clinging to vertical surfaces. They spend most of their life flying. They have bulky spindle shaped body, broad protruding head and short tail with prominent needle-like spikes in the steering feathers. Both sexes look similar.


The diet of Brown-backed Needletail is mostly air-borne insects. Insects like grasshoppers, locusts, cicadas, moths, beetles, bees, wasps, flies and flying ants and termites are the primary food. They are aerial feeders and prefer to forage in a swarm of insects. The forage time is mainly day and is done solitarily or in groups.


The habitat of Brown-backed Needletail includes moist forests, moist lowland forests, freshwater lakes, rivers, streams and creeks. In India it is distributed in South and southwest regions, North East regions and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. They are also found in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

Reproductive Behaviour

The breeding season of Brown-backed needletail species is from February to April. They are solitary nesters, but not construct the nest. Instead they nest in rock crevices in cliffs and steep rock formations. Normally 3-5 eggs are laid. The incubation period is very long and it takes up to 32-40 days. Domestic activities are shared by both parents.


The call is a distinctive high-pitched “trp-trp-trp” sound.

Related Species and Sub Species

Migratory Behaviour

Common Resident