Black-faced woodswallow
Artamus cinereus

The black-faced woodswallow (Artamus cinereus ) is a woodswallow of the genus Artamus native to Australia, New Guinea and the Sundra Islands, including Timor. It is 18–19 cm (7.1–7.5 in) long and is the most widespread species in the family Artamidae. Woodswallows have a soft call with chiff, chap and chattering calls which can include vocal mimicry

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Increased vegetation due to inappropriate fire regimes has caused the woodswallows numbers to decline since 1993 in Cape York Peninsula.

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The black-faced woodswallow is 18–19 cm (7.1–7.5 in) in length, and weighs 32–40 g (1.1–1.4 oz). It has a blue-grey beak with a black tip and a black face mask which extends from the base of the bill up to and around the eyes. It has ash grey plumage, which is lighter around the breast with darker wings, and silver underwings. The tail is black with a white tip.

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There are four different subspecies of back faced wood swallows. These are differentiated by black or white colouration of their tail vents. The white-vented subspecies A.c. normani and A.c.dealbatus are found on the Cape York Peninsula and northern Queensland respectively. The black-vented A.c. cinereus occurs in south west Australia, while A.c.melanops occurs in northern Australia and Lesser Sunda Islands, including Timor. The sexes are similar in colouration. Juvenile woodswallows have a brown body and wing coloration with buff streaks and a pale yellow beak. The voice is soft with chiff, chap and chattering animated calls which can include vocal mimicry.

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Biogeographical realms

This species is broadly distributed in Australia, occupying most of the continent except for the eastern margin. It is mainly sedentary, remaining in arid and semi-arid areas even during dry conditions. Although it can be partly nomadic, the woodswallow prefers open eucalypt woodlands, scrub, and spinifex in arid and semi-arid conditions. In tropical savannah, it prefers open woodlands and grasslands. Woodswallows frequently flock with finches and at times the golden-shouldered parrot.

Black-faced woodswallow habitat map
Black-faced woodswallow habitat map

Habits and Lifestyle

They are communal breeders, with documented feeding of young by numerous birds, probably as an adaptation to an erratic climate in arid and semi-arid conditions. Woodswallows also exhibit a tendency to flock and cluster roost, during the day and night. Clustering assists with thermoregulation, wind protection, social drive and reduces predation risk.

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Breeding generally follows periods of rain with abundant insects, generally, they breed once a year between August and September. The sexes are similar in appearance and courtship displays consist of rotating tails and wing waving. The male and female perch a metre apart, then spread their wings while fanning and rotating the tail.

Nests are built in tree hollows, crevices, forks of branches or on top of stumps. The same areas are occupied each year. Nest building takes 4–7 weeks to complete and is composed of twigs, coarse grass and lined with softer grass.

The eggs are oval in shape and range from 17-22mm in size. The woodswallows eggs come in a clutch size of 3-4 eggs., white to dull white in colouration with blotched markings which are red-brown and lavender speckling. Incubation takes 14–16 days, and chicks fledge 18 days later. The fledglings are at risk from predators such as hawks, butcher birds and kookaburras, but are kept away by alarm calls and attacking behaviour of the parents. Other birds e.g. parrots often feed close to woodswallows thereby reducing their own predation risk. As they are communal breeders, helpers can be seen feeding the young and defending against predators.

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Seasonal behavior
Bird's call

Diet and Nutrition

They are mainly insectivorous. Woodswallows are aerial feeders that can soar, hover and dive to catch insect prey which include moths and are also often feed on the ground taking ground insects, or insects caught on the wing to be dismembered. Woodswallows have brush- like tongues for gleaning nectar and will occasionally feed on flowers.



1. Black-faced woodswallow Wikipedia article -
2. Black-faced woodswallow on The IUCN Red List site -
3. Xeno-canto bird call -

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