The Alpine swift (Tachymarptis melba) formerly Apus melba, is a species of swift. The genus name is from the Ancient Greektakhus, “fast”, and marptis, “seizer”. The specific melba has no known explanation.
Swifts have very short legs which are used for clinging to vertical surfaces. They never settle voluntarily on the ground, spending most of their lives in the air living on the insects they catch in their beaks. Alpine swift are able to stay aloft in the air for up to seven months at a time, even drinking water “on the wing”.
Alpine swifts are readily distinguished from the common swifts by their larger size and their white belly and throat. They’re largely dark brown in colour with a dark neck band that separates the white throat from the white belly. Juveniles are similar to adults, but their feathers are pale edged.
Alpine swifts spend most of their lives in the air, living on the insects they catch in their beaks. They drink on the wing, but roost on vertical cliffs or walls. A study published in 2013 showed Alpine swifts can spend over six months flying without having to land. All vital physiological processes, including sleep, can be performed while on air.
In 2011, Felix Liechti and his colleagues at the Swiss Ornithological Institute attached electronic tags that log movement to six alpine swifts and it was discovered that the birds could stay aloft in the air for more than 200 days straight.