White-tailed Swallow Hirundo megaensis


Justification of Red List Category
This species is believed to have a small population, and is suspected to be declining owing to the intensification of land-use across much of its small range. It is therefore treated as Vulnerable, although there is little information on its population status and the seriousness of threats. There is cause for concern because of its specific climate envelope, and future information may lead to the species requiring to be reassessed.

Population justification
The population is estimated to number fewer than 10,000 individuals because the species probably exists at relatively low densities across its range. It is placed in the band 2,500-9,999 mature individuals, equating to 3,750-14,999 individuals, rounded here to 3,500-15,000 individuals.

Trend justification
The population is suspected to be in decline owing to changes in land use across much of the species's range, however the magnitude of this decline is unclear.

Distribution and population

Hirundo megaensis has a restricted range around Mega and Yabello in southern Ethiopia. No survey-based population estimate has been made, but while one survey in 1989 suggested densities had remained constant through the 1980s, another established slightly larger geographical and altitudinal ranges but recorded lower numbers. Field surveys in 1996 found it to be fairly common in small numbers (P. Robertson in litt. 1998). Surveys in 2005 found fewer than one individual per transect kilometre (Mellanby et al. 2008). In June 2006 small numbers were observed on the Liben Plains east of Negele, c.120 km northeast of the previously-known range. Further sightings have since been made there in every year since 2006, across 8 different months (Gabremichael et al. 2009; A. Bladon in litt. 2016). Although breeding has not been recorded on the Liben Plains the spread in seasonality of sightings so far suggests that the species may prove to occur regularly in the area (Bladon et al. 2015). The population is estimated to number less than 10,000 individuals because the species probably occurs at relatively low densities across its range, (N. J. Collar in litt. 2003; Bladon et al. in prep.). It is not believed to be dependent on termite mounds for nesting (as previously thought), in fact most nests records come from traditional huts (Bladon et al. 2015).


The species is found in open, semi-arid country above 1,300 m with short grass and Acacia woodland with some clearings (EWNHS 1996, P. Robertson in litt. 1998, Mellanby et al. 2008; A. Bladon in litt. 2016). It occurs less commonly over farmland and is absent from denser broad-leaved woodland (Mellanby et al. 2008), but forages readily around villages and cattle herds (Bladon et al. 2015). Sightings on the Liben Plains come from open grassland at c.1,650 m (Gabremichael et al. 2009). This species is generally observed singly or in pairs, although flocks of up to 50 individuals have been seen (Bladon et al. 2015). It breeds during the main rainy season (April-May), and a small number of nest have been found in the smaller rainy season (October-November), but the extent of breeding at this time is uncertain (A. Bladon in litt. 2016). Nest appear to be re-used over several years, but each nest only produces a single brood per year (Bladon et al. 2015). Most nest records come from traditional huts; the species appears to avoid more modern man-made structures used by some other hirundines, and despite previous hypotheses only 3 nests have been confirmed in termite mounds (EWNHS 1996, Mellanby et al. 2009, Bladon et al. 2015). The nest is a small mud cup lined with grass and animal hair, containing 3-4 pure white eggs. Incubation lasts 16-17 days, and fledging takes place around 19-20 days after hatching (Bladon et al. 2015)


This species is potentially threatened by the conversion of Acacia thorn-scrub to grazing land, and pastoralism to crop agriculture (N. Collar in litt. 2005). Surveys in 2005 found it at lower densities in farmland (R. Mellanby in litt. 2005, Melanby et al. 2008), suggesting that the species's population is declining in the face of such increases in grazing pressure and conversion to crops. Traditional huts provide an important nesting site for the species, which appears to avoid modern man-made structures, and there are only a limited number of nest records from other places (e.g. termite mounds) (Bladon et al. 2015). Therefore the loss of these traditional village huts would be very bad for the species. The species's apparent restriction to a climate envelope similar to that of the Ethiopian Bush-crow Zavattariornis stresemanni, (Donald et al. 2012, Bladon et al. 2015) is cause for further concern (A. Bladon, in litt. 2016).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
The Yabello Wildlife Sanctuary (c.2,500 km2) was designated in 1985 to protect this species and Ethiopian Bush-Crow Zavattariornis stresemanni, but there has been little active management. The area has recently been upgraded to Yabello National Park (EWCA 2016) and hopefully this will lead to more active management plans. A detailed study of the ecology and distribution of the species and its likely responses to climate change are being completed (Bladon et al. in prep.).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct surveys in order to obtain a population estimate. Establish the species breeds on the Liben Plains, and determine whether sightings there represent a resident population or migrants (Bladon et al. 2015). Survey between Negele and Arero to establish whether there is a continuous population (Gabremichael et al. 2009). Once a baseline population estimate has been obtained, carry out regular surveys to monitor population trends, in particular in areas likely to be affected by climate change (A. Bladon in litt. 2016). Monitor rates of Acacia clearance and conversion to cultivation. Better define the species's habitat requirements. Determine whether it is affected by the clearance of thorn-scrub for rangeland development. Initiate active management of Yabello National Park, including protection of traditional village huts (A. Bladon in litt. 2016). Increase the area of suitable habitat that has protected status.


13 cm. Small swallow. Male deep, iridescent blue (appears black) above, white below, with white tail. Female and juvenile similar but white on tail much reduced, sometimes absent. Similar spp. No other swallow has completely white underparts and white tail. Voice High-pitched, swallow-like twittering. Hints Easily seen year-round at 20 km east of Yabello in southern Ethiopia.


Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Pilgrim, J., Shutes, S., Starkey, M., Symes, A., Taylor, J. & Westrip, J.

Borghesio, L., Collar, N., Mellanby, R., Robertson, P. & Bladon, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2017) Species factsheet: Hirundo megaensis. Downloaded from on 20/10/2017. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2017) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 20/10/2017.