|Scientific name Artamus|
Higher classification Cracticinae
C. G. Sibley & J. A. Ahlquist, 1990|
Lower classifications White‑breasted woodswallow, Dusky woodswallow, Ashy woodswallow, White‑browed woodswallow, Black‑faced woodswallow
Dusky woodswallows feeding chicks
Woodswallows are soft-plumaged, somber-coloured passerine birds. There is a single genus, Artamus, The woodswallows are either treated as a subfamily, Artaminae in an expanded family Artamidae, which includes the butcherbirds and Australian magpie, or as the only genus in that family. The generic name, which in turn gives rise to the family name, is derived from the Ancient Greek artamos, meaning butcher or murder. The name was given due to their perceived similarity to shrikes, indeed a former common name for the group was "swallow-starlings".
The woodswallows have an Australasian distribution, with most species occurring in Australia and New Guinea. The ashy woodswallow has an exclusively Asian distribution, ranging from India and Sri Lanka through South East Asia to China, and the most widespread species is the white-breasted woodswallow, which ranges from Peninsular Malaysia through to Australia in the south and Vanuatu and New Caledonia. The group reaches the easternmost extent of its distribution in Fiji with the endemic Fiji woodswallow.
Woodswallows are smooth, agile flyers with moderately large, semi-triangular wings. They are among the very few passerines birds that soar, and can often be seen feeding just above the treetops. One sedentary species aside, they are nomads, following the best conditions for flying insects, and often roosting in large flocks.
Although woodswallows have a brush-tipped tongue they seldom use it for gathering nectar.
The nests of woodswallows are loosely constructed from fine twigs, and both parents help rear the young.