Here’s a little feature on swifts 🙂
Swifts are high flying birds with forked tails, and scythe like wings. They visit the UK every summer, and though they are only with us for a few months a year, because they winter in Africa, they are very much part of our lives.
They spend their life in the air, they do not land. The only time they are not in flight is when they are nesting; they feed, mate and sleep in the air. According to the RSPB website, it’s estimated that they fly 800km or almost 500 miles, on average, daily. They catch flying insects and airborne spiders.
Copyright. Swift leaving a wake as it drinks, by Marc Guyt. Image courtesy of Swift Conservation. To find out lots more about Swifts, and how you can help them go to www.swift-conservation.org.
Their population has dropped considerably over the last few years; according to the British Trust for Ornithology a third of British swifts have been lost since 1995. It’s hard to tell why this is, especially as Swifts live on the wing and are not very accessible for research, but it is thought that they lack nesting sites in the UK as they like to nest in eaves and roof spaces, and due to new building practices, suitable sites are harder to find.
It is sadly very common for entire colonies of Swifts to lose their nest places when buildings are re-roofed or insulated. This is a real pity because there are plenty of ways to have both a new roof, insulation, and to keep the Swifts’ nests, but people just don’t know about how to do it. However, Swift Conservation produces a special leaflet to guide you, and you can download it here.
The BTO are tracking Swifts with miniature “data loggers” fitted to the birds’ backs to learn more about them, and where they go, so that they can target their conservation efforts. You can see the results here.
You can also help swifts by helping the RSPB with their survey. Each year they ask the public to let them know where and when swifts are seen nesting, or screaming overhead. You can find out about swifts and the survey here.
Another option to help is to put up a specially designed swift nest box. You can buy these for as little as £15, and you can get CD’s of swift calls to help the swifts find the nest. Swift boxes need to be sited high under the eaves at least 5m above ground and with clear airspace in front so that the swifts can fly in a high speed. Swifts are said to be quiet and unobtrusive when nesting, and they are the cleanest of birds, so you can enjoy sharing your space with them without much hassle.
Copyright. Two juvenile Swifts in their nest, by Erich Kaiser. Image courtesy of Swift Conservation.
I have a swift nest box up. Sadly I haven’t enticed any swifts yet, but some cheeky sparrows have nested in it!
Swifts look similar to the swallow and house martin, even though they are not related, in fact the Swift’s nearest relative is the Humming Bird! There is a useful identification guide here.
April to august is when the swifts are with us. I’ll be looking out for them and I hope you will too!
Copyright. Swift returning to the nest with a food ball stored in its throat, by David Moreton. Image courtesy of Swift Conservation.
Fun fact: Swifts incubate their eggs for about 20 days. Because they are use to flying all the time, it’s hard to stay still, so they do wing press ups to keep fit!
To find out lots more about Swifts, and how you can help them, go to www.swift-conservation.org. If swifts visit you area, I recommend reading what to do if you see a fallen swift. There is also lots of information on in-built, and external nest boxes. Don’t forget – you can download leaflets here.
Thanks to Edward at Swift Conservation for his help.