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The Mascarene martin or Mascarene swallow Phedina borbonica is a passerine (perching) bird in the swallow family that can be found in Madagascar and in the Mascarene Islands. The bird is a small swallow with grey brown underparts streaked with black. It has blackish brown wings, a black bill and legs and a slightly forked tail with white edges. It is 15 centimeters long, weighs 18 – 24 grams and its wings are on average 11.7 centimeters in length. This swallow displays a heavy flight with slow wingbeats combined with glides. Both males and females are similar, although juveniles have more diffuse breast streaking, and white tipped feathers cover their closed wings.
The habitat of Phedina borbonica is on the south and west coasts, as well as the inland cliffs of Mauritius in open and semi-open areas. It is a non-migratory species, although local seasonal movements have been noted and it may repeatedly return to a favourite perch. The Mascarene martin perches on wires and occasionally rests on sandy beaches. It roosts in small flocks in bushes, on buildings or on cliffs and moults in December and January. The birds feed in flight, often low over the ground or vegetation. They feed on scarab beetles, click beetles, other beetles, bugs and flying ants amongst others. They hunt individually, or in small groups with other swallows and swifts, and are most active just before dusk.
The Mascarene martin breeds in groups typically comprising a few pairs, although a colony of about 20 pairs has been recorded in Mauritius and nests from September to early January in Mauritius and Réunion. Breeding habitat may comprise ledges, buildings, tunnels, caves or amongst rocks or anywhere suitable to construct a nest. The nest is made of a shallow cup of twigs and coarse plant materials such as grass and casuarina with a soft lining of feathers and finer vegetation. A typical clutch is two eggs although in Reunion it may comprise two or three. The eggs are incubated by the female alone and the chicks hatch naked and blind. The male helps to feed the young, and the chicks are fed by both parents after fledgling.
Although this bird has a limited range, it is abundant in Mauritius and Réunion, and locally common in Madagascar. The population proporton is unknown but exceeds the vulnerability threshold of 10,000 mature individuals and is believed to be stable. This martin is therefore classed as a species of ‘Least Concern’ by the IUCN.
Tropical cyclones present a natural threat. Although most endemic and native species are badly affected by habitat degradation or introduced predators, the Mascarene martin is found in several islands, and seem to be less vulnerable to the effects of human activities, given their wide range of nesting sites and adaptation to built-up areas.
In Mauritius, the Mascarene martin is legally protected. It is illegal to kill any bird of the species or to take or destroy their nests under section 16 of the Wildlife and National Parks Act 1993.
No other streaked swallow species can be found within the island breeding range of the Mascarene martin.
BirdLife International. 2016. Aerodramus francicus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22686511A93115351. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22686511A93115351.en.