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In swift decline

Posted: Monday 15th May 2017 by Community

Swift in flight (c) Stefan JohanssonSwift in flight (c) Stefan Johansson

At this time of year many of us will starting hearing and seeing swifts reeling around above our gardens: a sure sign that summer is just around the corner. Here Colin Studholme talks about his fascination with swifts and the plight they face.

I have always been fascinated by swifts. I can remember swifts nesting in the eaves of a neighbour’s house and being intrigued at the way these strange sickle-shaped birds screamed along the street and disappeared effortlessly – and without apparently slowing – into the narrowest of slits in the eaves.

The sound of the swift is the sound of summer, and each year I look forward to hearing them for the first time. On a fine warm spring day a faint scream will come out of a blue sky telling us that they are back.

Later, once established at their breeding sites, groups of swifts engage in a display of aerobatics over roof-tops, occasionally swooping low along streets, which for sheer speed and virtuosity is unrivalled by any other bird. In today’s modern jargon these displays are called “low level screaming parties” – and they are a good indication that the swifts are nesting nearby.

On a fine warm spring day a faint scream will come out of a blue sky telling us that they are back.

Although the sound of the swift is unmistakeable they are rarely seen other than in flight. When not flying they hide themselves away in the dark recesses in the roofs of old buildings. They don’t perch in trees or hop on the ground like other birds so it is not surprising that they’ve been surrounded by folklore.

In olden days when these black creatures came hurtling from the sky at a phenomenal speed screaming like banshees, they were thought of as fistfuls of demons flung by the Devil, returning at nightfall to some Satanic roosting place.

But today we know swifts as the supreme specialists of fast sustained flight – long curved wings keep them airborne for years with their legs becoming almost useless, and yes they do mate and sleep on the wing.

Long-lived birds – up to 20 years – they return to traditional nest sites year after year. Unfortunately, the old housing stock with wood fascias, soffit boards and ill-fitting roof tiles are gradually being replaced with modern homes – comfortable for people but useless to birds like the swift.

Old buildings are also renovated with modern maintenance-free PVC, replacing the wood which is prone to split and crack and provide swifts with entry into roof nest sites.

Courtesy of www.swift-conservation.org/


While we know what swifts which nest in buildings need, developers have been slow to provide future homes for them whilst available nesting sites continue to dwindle. 

old housing stock with wood fascias, soffit boards and ill-fitting roof tiles are gradually being replaced with modern homes – comfortable for people but useless to birds like the swift.

Local authorities do not routinely ask for nesting sites to be provided within new developments so not only are we missing an opportunity to reverse the loss of nesting sites, we are also depriving future homeowners of the pleasure of having these birds as close neighbours.

The best way to protect these wonderful birds is to help record them so we can use this information to ensure that new developments and renovations do not damage traditional nesting sites and where possible try to provide additional sites by incorporating new nest sites by including swift “bricks” in new constructions, or adding nest boxes to existing buildings.

All you have to do is report any “low level screaming parties” or nest sites that you notice. 

Report your sighting

Find out more about swifts

Buy a swift nesting box

 

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Swifts, Swallows and House Martins3.07 MB

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