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The Birds of the Semirechye Area


Shnitnikov V.N. (1949): Ptitsy Semirechya [Birds of Semirechye] (Russian). Moscow-Leningrad, Academy of Sciences of USSR, 666 pp.


(APUSlist No. 3162)






Between 1907 and 1938, Shnitnikov performed research on birds in the Semirechye area, which lies between the three lakes of Balkhash, Ala-Kul [Alakol] and Issyk-Kul. This area covers parts of the three states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan.


Shnitnikov collected 1,300 skins and compared them with than 12,460 others collected in the same area.


All the dates are given in the Gregorian Calendar.



Black Swift Apus apus apus L. and A.a.pekinensis Swinh.

This bird’s name in Kazakh is “Uzun-kanat”, and in Kyrgyz, “Kardagach”.


Among the Swifts collected from the region around the Zoological Institute, A.a.apus are rather well distinguished from A.a.pekinensis.


The known localities for them are:


A.a.apus: 16.04.1900 - Dzharkent; 23.05.1905 - Uch-Tyube (Karatal); 28.05.1915 - lower stream of the Lli River; 30.06.1907 - Baskunchi; 4.07.? - Ketmen “golden harvest point”; 11.07.1912 - canyon of the Temerlik River; 12.08.1884 - near the mouth of the Ili River; 23.08.? - near Kopal; August 1911 - Kopal.


A.a.pekinensis: 24.05.1899 - Tyshkan; May 1899 - northern Tyan-Shan; 29.05.? - Aksu; 9.06.1902 - Kutemaldy; 10.06.1907 - Dzharkent; 14.06-25.08. 1909 - Naryn, six specimens; 21.07.1915 - Naryn; 22.07.1915 - Naryn; September 1900- Karagayty; 1841 - the Alakul plain.


In the southern half of the Semirechye, Shnitnikov failed to find A.a.apus, but in the northern half, the majority of specimens were A.a.apus. The southern part is a mountain and highland area, the northern a plain area, so A.a.apus seems to be a plain form and A.a.pekineneis a mountain form. There are some exceptions, which also may support this presumption (for example, the finding of both forms near Dzharkent where the Ili valley is near the mountains of the Dzhungarsky Alatau).


The following information does not distinguish between the nominate form apus and pekinensis.


The Black Swift lives mainly in the mountain part of the region, being sporadically distributed, and living near rocks and cliffs suitable for nesting. Sometimes there are very large colonies like the one near the station at Cholpan-Ata on the northern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul’.


From Shnitnikov’s observations, and also those of other authors and collectors like G.Almashi, (who also wrote under the transliteration of  “Almasy”) also B.P.Koreyev, and G.Merzbacher, there is nesting at altitudes up to 3000 m above sea level, but mainly occuring just below 1500-2100 m.

Sometimes Black Swifts were seen in localities far from crags or cliffs, so Shnitnikov presumes that in the plain areas of the Semirechye the birds nest in holes along the shore, or else in holes in “Turanga” (Populus pruinosa) trees, or even in Kazakh tombs. But he did not see such nesting himself.


Shnitnikov did not personally record the spring arrival of the Swifts, but he quoted details of this from other authors. Koreyev describes an unusually early time for this. For example, near Dzharkent he says that nine Swifts arrived on 7th April 1900, on 8th April another was seen and on 16th April the migration was good, and stayed that way up to early May.


Shnitnikov only once saw a good migration of these birds: on 14th May in the Chou River valley near Konstantinovskaya, flying northwards, not forming flocks but flying and hunting food as they went, in very large numbers.


For autumn departure, in 1899 (after Koreyev) the Swifts were seen in great numbers from the 14th to the 29th of September near Dzharkent. In the autumn of 1900 the migration was seen mainly in the second ten days of September. From his own observations, the migration begins earlier in the northern Semiryechye. At Lake Ala-Kul’ in 1914, Swifts appeared in very large numbers on 14th August and maintained their migration up to 18th August, then left the area, appearing again in big numbers on 8th September; on 9th September they were again present but only in small numbers.


In 1915, Shnitnikov observed a large flock on 22nd August. On 27th August 1925, a number of large flocks were seen between Alma-Ata (now known as Almaty) and Kaskelen, all birds leaving to the South. On 29th to 30th September 1925 he saw several birds near Frunze (now known as Bishkek). On the 10th September 1925 they were seen in very small numbers at the Chou River below Frunze. On the 15th and 17th September he saw only two birds at Chou. The last day he observed Swifts was on the 17th September.


On 5th Sept 1907 at the station at Aksu, Shnitnikov observed an unusual movement of the Swifts. In late evening, almost in the darkness, they flew from the mountains to Lake Balkhash i.e. from the south to the north.


Cited literature

Zarudny N.A. and Koreyev B.P. 1906. Ornithological fauna of the Semirechye region. [Ornitologicheskaya fauna Semirechenskogo kraya] (Materials on the fauna and flora of the Russian Empire, VII).


APUSlife 2006, No. 3163 
ISSN 1438-2261