River martin

The river martins form a distinctive subfamily Pseudochelidoninae within the swallow and martin bird family Hirundinidae. The two species are the African river martin Pseudochelidon eurystomina, found in the Congo and Gabon, and the white-eyed river martin Pseudochelidon sirintarae, known only from one site in Thailand. These are medium-sized, largely black swallows that have a light buoyant flight and feed on insects caught in the air. They appear to be more terrestrial than other swallows, frequently walking rather than perching, and the white-eyed may be crepuscular. The African species excavates nest holes in sandy ridges in rivers, while the breeding locations and habits of the Asian bird are unknown.

When the African river martin was first discovered in the 19th century, Gustav Hartlaub thought it was a roller, and later authors either placed it in its own family, or with the woodswallows. Study of the anatomy revealed that the species was closest to the swallows and martins, but that it possessed a number of distinctive features, such as its robust legs and feet and stout bill. These indicated that it should be placed in a separate subfamily. The two river martin species are usually considered to belong to a single genus, Pseudochelidon, due to their having a number of structural similarities. However, Brooke proposed that the white-eyed river martin be placed in a separate monotypic genus Eurochelidon.

The African river martin has a restricted distribution; it appears to be locally numerous, although its true status has not been fully investigated. The white-eyed river martin was discovered as recently as 1969 and is only known from specimens and anecdotal evidence – no modern ornithologists have seen the species in the wild, and its breeding grounds are unknown. It may be extinct, although a possible sighting was reported in 2004.

River martins
large black swallow in flight with white rump and long tail streamers
White-eyed river martin (Pseudochelidon sirintarae)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Hirundinidae
Subfamily: Pseudochelidoninae
Shelley, 1896
Genus: Pseudochelidon
Hartlaub, 1861

P. eurystomina
P. sirintarae


When a specimen of the African river martin from Gabon was first formally described by German zoologist Gustav Hartlaub in 1861,[1] it was not initially identified as a member of the swallow and martin family. Hartlaub placed it with the rollers, and later authors either put it in its own separate family, or with the woodswallows. It was only following study of the anatomy of the species by Lowe that it was determined to be closely related to the swallows and martins, but sufficiently different that it could be placed in a separate subfamily Pseudochelidoninae.[2] The genus name Pseudochelidon comes from the Ancient Greek prefix ψευδο/pseudo, "false", and χελιδων/chelidôn, "swallow", reflecting its distinctiveness from the "true" swallows.[3][4]

For many years the African river martin was the sole member of its genus and subfamily until the discovery of the white-eyed river martin, Pseudochelidon eurystomina, by Thai ornithologist Kitti Thonglongya in 1968.[5] Although some authorities follow Brooke in placing that species in a separate genus Eurochelidon due to its significant differences from the African species, it remains a member of the same subfamily.[6][7] Genetic studies confirmed that the two river martins form a distinct clade from the typical swallows in the Hirundininae subfamily.[8]

The river martins are in some ways intermediate between typical swallows and other passerines: they have stout bills, large feet and relatively strong legs, which is unusual in aerial feeders. They also have a large syrinx (vocal organ) and a different bronchial structure. The extent of their differences from other swallows and the wide geographical separation of these two martins suggest that they are relict populations of a group of species that diverged from the main swallow lineage early in its evolutionary history,[2] and they may be the most primitive of the swallows.[9] Like other early hirundine lineages, they nest in burrows, rather than adopted nest holes or mud nests.[10]


Both species are medium-sized (14–18 cm or 5.5–7.1 in), mainly black-plumaged swallows, unlikely to be confused with any other hirundine in their respective ranges. Adults of both species have large, blue-glossed heads, a green tinge to the body plumage, and brown wings. The sexes are similar in plumage. The white-eyed has elongated outer tail feathers, a whitish rump, a white eye and eye-ring, and a yellow bill. The African has a red eye-ring and bill and lacks a contrasting rump patch or tail streamers. The juveniles of both species are similar to the adults, but with brown heads, and young white-eyeds lack the long tail streamers of the adults.[2]

The African river martin has a chee chee or cheer-cheer-cheer call when it is flying in flocks. It is very vocal during migration, giving harsh gull-like calls, and appears to have a jingling courtship song. No calls have been described for the white-eyed river martin.[2]

Distribution and habitat

The African river martin (left map) is present all year in Gabon (purple) and the Republic of Congo (blue), and also breeds in DRC (red). The white-eyed river martin (right map) is known from one site in Thailand

Pseudochelidon eurystomina map
Pseudochelidon sirintarae map

The two members of the subfamily have geographically separate ranges. The African river martin breeds along the Congo and Ubangi rivers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[11] It is migratory, wintering in coastal savannah in southern Gabon and the Republic of Congo; it has recently been discovered to nest in beach ridges and grassland in its coastal wintering areas.[2][11] The white-eyed river martin is known only from its wintering site at Bueng Boraphet lake in Thailand, where it was seen between the months of November and February.[12] It may be migratory, but its breeding grounds and habitat are unknown, although river valleys in Northern Thailand or south-western China are possibilities,[2] as are Cambodia and Myanmar.[12] However, doubts have been cast on whether it is actually migratory at all.[13]

The African species' breeding habitat consists of forested rivers with islands with sandy shores for breeding. The nesting grounds of the white-eyed river martin are unknown, but if the breeding habitat resembles that of its relative, it is likely to be the forested valleys of large rivers, which can provide sandbars and islands for nesting, and woodland over which the birds can catch insect prey.[2] The African river martin uses coastal savannah as its winter habitat. Based on its only known wintering site, the non-breeding habitat of the white-eyed is assumed to be in the vicinity of open fresh water for feeding, with reed-beds for the night-time roost.[12]


Congo maluku
The Congo River is a major breeding area of the African river martin

Breeding behaviour is known only for the African river martin. It nests in large colonies of up to 800 birds from December to April, when the river levels are low. Each pair excavates a 1–2 m (39–79 in) long tunnel in the exposed sandbanks. The pocket at the end of the tunnel has a few twigs and leaves to serve as a nest, onto which two to four unspotted white eggs are laid. It has chasing flight displays and will walk on the ground; it also displays on the ground, but the function of this is uncertain. It rarely perches during the breeding season.[2] Although it has been assumed that the breeding habits of the white-eyed species resemble those of the African species, distinctive differences in foot and toe morphology suggest that it might not use a burrow for nesting.[14]

The African river martin feeds in flocks over river and forest, often far from water. It eats insects, mainly taking winged ants. The flight is strong and fast, interspersed with glides. Wintering birds regularly perch on treetops, wires and roofs.[2] The white-eyed river martin feeds on insects, including beetles, which are caught on the wing.[2] Given its size and unusual mouth structure, it may take larger insects than other swallows.[13] This species is described as graceful and buoyant in flight, and, like its African relative, appears reluctant to use perches.[2] This behaviour, together with its unusual toe-shape and the fact that mud was found on the toes of one of the first specimens, suggests that this species may be relatively terrestrial.[15] In winter, it roosts with barn swallows in reedbeds.[16] Pamela C. Rasmussen suggested that, given its unusually large eyes, the species might be nocturnal or crepuscular, a factor that could make it highly cryptic and thus partly explain how such a distinctive species remained undetected for so long. Although the fact that the first specimens were supposedly collected roosting at night in reed-beds might be a contraindication, it is possible that the birds might not actually have been caught at the roost; or they might be crepuscular, feeding at dawn and dusk; or they might be capable of both diurnal and nocturnal behaviour, depending on the season or local circumstances.[14]


Johann Gustav Hartlaub - pre 1900
Gustav Hartlaub described the African river martin

The white-eyed river martin was seen in Thailand in 1972, 1977 and 1980, but not definitely since.[2] There are unconfirmed sightings from Thailand in 1986[12] and Cambodia in 2004.[17] It is classified as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). This designation means that a species' numbers have decreased, or will decrease, by 80% within three generations. This species may be extinct, but the IUCN will not categorise it as such until extensive targeted surveys have been conducted.[7] Despite legal protection under Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) agreement,[18] it was captured by locals along with other swallows for sale as food or for release by devout Buddhists. Following its discovery by ornithologists, trappers were reported to have caught as many as 120 and sold them to the director of the Nakhon Sawan Fisheries Station who was unable to keep them alive in captivity.[14] The small population may therefore have become non-viable.[2]

One factor that reduces the chances of re-discovering the white-eyed martin is the drastic decline in the numbers of swallows wintering at Bueng Boraphet, its only known site, from the hundreds of thousands reported around 1970 to maximum counts of 8,000 made in the winter of 1980–1981. It is not certain whether this represents a real decline or a shift in site in response to persecution.[13] Other potential causes for the species' decline include the disturbance of riverine sand bars, the construction of dams which flood the area upstream and alter the downstream hydrology, deforestation, and increasing conversion of its habitat to agriculture.[12] Very few swallows now roost in the Bueng Boraphet reedbeds, preferring sugarcane plantations, and, despite searching, the white-eyed river martin has not been found in other nearby large swallow roosts.[13] Bueng Boraphet has been declared a non-hunting area in an effort to protect the species,[12] but surveys to find this martin have been unsuccessful. Past surveys include several at Bueng Boraphet, a 1969 survey of the Nan Yom and Wang Rivers of northern Thailand, and a 1996 survey of rivers in northern Laos.[12] A possible unverified sighting was reported in 2004.[17]

The total population size of the African river martin is unknown. In the late 1980s, it appeared to be common, if local, and large numbers were seen on migration in Gabon. However, it is particularly poorly known in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and it is unclear if there is any relationship between the birds breeding in the DRC and those breeding in coastal areas of Gabon and the Republic of Congo. A flock of 15,000 birds was seen in 1997, and a mixed flock with rosy bee-eater Merops malimbicus was estimated at 100,000 birds; nevertheless, due to the lack of detailed information, the species is classed by the IUCN as Data Deficient. In the 1950s, the species was caught and eaten in large quantities in the DRC by the local population, and this practice could be increasing. Breeding colonies in river sandbars are also liable to flooding,[11] but thousands of birds were breeding on the grasslands east of Gamba as recently as 2005.[19]


  1. ^ Hartlaub, Gustav (1861). "Ueber einige neue Vögel Westafrica's". Journal für Ornithologie (in German). 9 (1): 12. doi:10.1007/BF02002444.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Turner, Angela K; Rose, Chris (1989). A handbook to the swallows and martins of the world. Bromley: Christopher Helm. pp. 85–88. ISBN 0-7470-3202-5.
  3. ^ "Scientific bird names explained". uk.r.b. Retrieved 2008-01-03.
  4. ^ Lowe, P R (1938). "Some anatomical notes on the genus Pseudochelidon Hartlaub with reference to its taxonomic position". Ibis. 2 (3): 429–437. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919x.1938.tb00576.x.
  5. ^ Kitti, Thonglongya (1968). "A new martin of the genus Pseudochelidon from Thailand". Thai National Scientific Papers, Fauna Series no. 1.
  6. ^ Brooke, Richard (1972). "Generic limits in Old World Apodidae and Hirundinidae". Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club. 92: 53–7.
  7. ^ a b "BirdLife International Species factsheet: Eurochelidon sirintarae ". BirdLife International. Retrieved 2009-11-15.
  8. ^ Sheldon, Frederick H; Whittingham, Linda A; Moyle, Robert G; Slikas, Beth; Winkler, David W (April 2005). "Phylogeny of swallows (Aves: Hirundinidae) estimated from nuclear and mitochondrial DNA". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 35 (1): 254–270. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2004.11.008. PMID 15737595.
  9. ^ Olson, S L (1973). "A classification of the Rallidae". Wilson Bulletin. 65: 381–416.
  10. ^ Winkler, David W; Sheldon, Frederick H (June 1993). "Evolution of nest construction in swallows (Hirundinidae): A molecular phylogenetic perspective" (PDF). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. 90 (12): 5705–5707. doi:10.1073/pnas.90.12.5705. PMC 46790. PMID 8516319. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-17.
  11. ^ a b c "BirdLife International Species factsheet: Pseudochelidon eurystomina ". BirdLife International. Retrieved 2009-11-15.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Hirschfeld, Erik (editor) (2007). Rare Birds Yearbook 2008. England: MagDig Media Lmtd. p. 208. ISBN 978-0-9552607-3-5.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  13. ^ a b c d Tobias, Joe (June 2000). "Little known oriental bird: White-eyed River-Martin: 1". Oriental Bird Club Bulletin. 31.
  14. ^ a b c Collar, N J; Andreev, A V; Chan, S; Crosby M J; Subramanya, S; Tobias, J A, eds. (2001). Threatened birds of Asia; the BirdLife International Red Data Book (PDF). BirdLife International. pp. 1942–1947. ISBN 0-946888-44-2.
  15. ^ Tobias, Joe (June 2000). "Little known oriental bird: White-eyed River-Martin: 2". Oriental Bird Club Bulletin. 31.
  16. ^ Lekagul, Boonsong; Round, Philip (1991). A guide to the birds of Thailand. Bangkok: Saha Karn Baet. ISBN 974-85673-6-2. p233
  17. ^ a b Judell, Doug (2006). "Investigating a possible sighting of the White-eyed River-Martin". Thaibirding.com. Retrieved 2009-11-13.
  18. ^ "Appendices I, II and III" (PDF). Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, valid from 13 September 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-03.
  19. ^ Angehr, G R; Schmidt, B K; Njie, F; Gebhard, C (May 2005). "Significant records and annotated site lists from bird surveys in the Gamba Complex, Gabon" (PDF). Malimbus. 27: 72.

External links

African river martin

The African river martin (Pseudochelidon eurystomina) is a passerine bird, one of two members of the river martin subfamily of the swallow family, Hirundinidae. When discovered, it was not initially recognised as a swallow, and its structural differences from most of its relatives, including its stout bill and robust legs and feet, have led to its current placement in a separate subfamily shared only with the Asian white-eyed river martin. The African river martin is a large swallow, mainly black with a blue-green gloss to the head and a greener tint to the back and wings. The under-wings are brownish, the underparts are purple-black, and the flight feathers are black. This martin has red eyes, a broad orange-red bill and a black, square tail. Young birds are similar in appearance to the adults, but have browner plumage. This species has a variety of unmusical calls, and displays both in flight and on the ground, although the purpose of the terrestrial display is unknown.

The main breeding areas are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) along the Congo River and its tributary, the Ubangi, in habitats characterised by a mixture of tropical forest types including swampy or seasonally flooded woodland. The African river martin is migratory, wintering in coastal savanna in southern Gabon and the Republic of the Congo. Breeding also occurs in these coastal areas, but it is unknown whether the migrants are raising a second brood or if there is a separate resident population. This martin feeds in flocks throughout the year, catching a variety of insects in the air, especially flying ants. It does not use perches during the breeding season, although it will often land on the ground.

The African river martin nests in burrows in river sand banks, often alongside rosy bee-eaters, but its incubation and fledging times are not known. It also digs tunnels for night-time shelter when in its wintering areas. It appears to be common within its restricted range, despite being caught in large numbers by the local population for food, and large flocks are sometimes seen. However, due to a lack of detailed information about its breeding range and population numbers, this species is classed as Data Deficient by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).


Atticora is a genus of bird in the swallow family Hirundinidae. These species are found in South America.

It contains the following two species:

White-banded swallow (Atticora fasciata)

Black-collared swallow (Atticora melanoleuca)

Banded martin

The banded martin or banded sand martin (Riparia cincta) is a small passerine bird in the swallow family. It is an inhabitant of the African continent.

Black-and-rufous swallow

The black-and-rufous swallow (Hirundo nigrorufa) is a species of bird in the family Hirundinidae.

Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle (Irish: Caisleán na Blarnan) is a medieval stronghold in Blarney, near Cork, Ireland, and the River Martin. Though earlier fortifications were built on the same spot, the current keep was built by the MacCarthy of Muskerry dynasty, a cadet branch of the Kings of Desmond, and dates from 1446. The Blarney Stone is among the machicolations of the castle.

Bueng Boraphet

Bueng Boraphet (Thai: บึงบอระเพ็ด, pronounced [bɯ̄ŋ bɔ̄ː.rā.pʰét]) is the largest freshwater swamp and lake in central Thailand. It covers an area of 224 km2 east of Nakhon Sawan, south of the Nan River close to its confluence with the Ping River.

Originally the area was covered by a large swamp, which was flooded in 1930 with the building of a dam to improve fishing.

This is the only known site for the white-eyed river martin which used to winter there, but has not been seen since 1980, and may be extinct.One hundred-six square kilometres of the lake were declared a non-hunting area in 1975. In 2000 it was designated a wetland of international importance by the Thai government.

Forest swallow

The forest swallow (Petrochelidon fuliginosa) is a species of bird in the family Hirundinidae.

It is found in Cameroon, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Nigeria.

Galápagos martin

The Galápagos martin (Progne modesta) is a species of bird in the Hirundinidae family, endemic to the Galápagos Islands.

Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry shrubland, subtropical or tropical seasonally wet or flooded lowland grassland, pastureland, and heavily degraded former forest.

Grey-rumped swallow

The grey-rumped swallow (Pseudhirundo griseopyga) is a species of bird in the monotypic genus, Pseudhirundo, in the family Hirundinidae.

It is found in Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Indian River State College

Indian River State College (IRSC) is a state college based in Fort Pierce, Florida, which serves the counties of Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee and St. Lucie. In 2019, IRSC won the Aspen Prize for community college excellence.

List of rivers of the Northwest Territories

his is a list of rivers that are in whole or partly in the Northwest Territories, Canada.

Preuss's cliff swallow

Preuss's cliff swallow (Petrochelidon preussi), also known as Preuss's swallow, is a species of bird in the family Hirundinidae.

Sand martin

The sand martin (Riparia riparia) or European sand martin, bank swallow in the Americas, and collared sand martin in the Indian Subcontinent, is a migratory passerine bird in the swallow family. It has a wide range in summer, embracing practically the whole of Europe and the Mediterranean countries, part of northern Asia and also North America. It winters in eastern and southern Africa, South America and the Indian Subcontinent.


The saw-wings, Psalidoprocne, is a small genus of passerine birds in the swallow family. The common name of this group is derived from the rough outer edge of the outer primary feather on the wing, which is rough due to recurved barbs. The function of this is unknown. The birds are 11–17 cm long and black or black-and-white in colour. The genus has an African distribution and all species can be found foraging over forest and woodland.

Sinaloa martin

The Sinaloa martin (Progne sinaloae) is a species of bird in the family Hirundinidae.

It breeds semicolonially in sheer cliff faces within pine-oak forests of the Sierra Madre Occidental of western Mexico. Presumed migrant records also come from Belize and Guatemala. It is assumed to winter in South America.

Southern martin

The southern martin (Progne elegans) is a species of bird in the family Hirundinidae.

It is found in Argentina and southern Bolivia ; in winter it migrates to the western Amazon Basin.

Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest, subtropical or tropical moist montane forest, subtropical or tropical dry lowland grassland, subtropical or tropical high-altitude grassland, and urban areas.


The swallows, martins and saw-wings, or Hirundinidae, are a family of passerine birds found around the world on all continents, including occasionally in Antarctica. Highly adapted to aerial feeding, they have a distinctive appearance. The term Swallow is used colloquially in Europe as a synonym for the barn swallow. There are around 90 species of Hirundinidae, divided into 19 genera, with the greatest diversity found in Africa, which is also thought to be where they evolved as hole-nesters. They also occur on a number of oceanic islands. A number of European and North American species are long-distance migrants; by contrast, the West and South African swallows are non-migratory.

This family comprises two subfamilies: Pseudochelidoninae (the river martins of the genus Pseudochelidon) and Hirundininae (all other swallows, martins and saw-wings). Within the Old World, the name martin tends to be used for the squarer-tailed species, and the name swallow for the more fork-tailed species; however, there is no scientific distinction between these two groups. Within the New World, "martin" is reserved for members of the genus Progne. (These two systems are responsible for the sand martin being called "bank swallow" in the New World.)

White-eyed river martin

The white-eyed river martin (Pseudochelidon sirintarae) is a passerine bird, one of only two members of the river martin subfamily of the swallows. Since it has significant differences from its closest relative, the African river martin, it is sometimes placed in its own genus, Eurochelidon. First found in 1968, it is known only from a single wintering site in Thailand, and may be extinct, since it has not been seen since 1980 despite targeted surveys in Thailand and neighbouring Cambodia. It may possibly still breed in China or Southeast Asia, but a Chinese painting initially thought to depict this species was later reassessed as showing pratincoles.

The adult white-eyed river martin is a medium-sized swallow, with mainly glossy greenish-black plumage, a white rump, and a tail which has two elongated slender central tail feathers, each widening to a racket-shape at the tip. It has a white eye ring and a broad, bright greenish-yellow bill. The sexes are similar in appearance, but the juvenile lacks the tail ornaments and is generally browner than the adult. Little is known of the behaviour or breeding habitat of this martin, although like other swallows it feeds on insects caught in flight, and its wide bill suggests that it may take relatively large species. It roosts in reed beds in winter, and may nest in river sandbanks, probably in April or May before the summer rains. It may have been overlooked prior to its discovery because it tended to feed at dawn or dusk rather than during the day.

The martin's apparent demise may have been hastened by trapping, loss of habitat and the construction of dams. The winter swallow roosts at the only known location of this martin have greatly reduced in numbers, and birds using river habitats for breeding have declined throughout the region. The white-eyed river martin is one of only two birds endemic to Thailand, and the country's government has noted this through the issues of a stamp and a high-value commemorative coin.

Swallows (family: Hirundinidae)


This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.