It’s a swift – a bird that to me is the announcer of summer! I love to hear their “screaming parties” as they soar at speed around the houses near to me in Oakwood. A sound I don’t want to lose. They are different to swallows and house martins as they have large areas of pale colour on them and swifts don’t. They look like arrows in the sky. Swifts do not perch on wires either.
Swifts are amazing birds! They fly about 500 miles a day and during their long lives, about 2 million miles! They eat flying insects like mosquitoes and flies and, sadly, they are in trouble. Their numbers have halved in the last 20 years and they are struggling to survive.
They return to the UK from Africa to breed every May (a round trip of 14,000 miles) and nest in our houses – traditionally under roofs and in nooks and crannies. They catch nesting material from the air – feathers, leaves, petals to make a cosy place to lay their two or three eggs. Both parents brood the eggs and when they hatch, after about 18 days, the chicks are fed balls of 300-500 insects collected by the parents. They leave the nest after six-eight weeks and make their first long journey to Africa.
They eat, drink, preen, sleep and mate on the wing – only landing to nest. Nesting is now becoming one of the big problems for swifts. Lots of old buildings being knocked down, loft extensions or building works on homes – people don’t realise they have swift nests and unintentionally block them in the process of works. The swifts faithfully return to the same nest site every year and, if they cannot enter, it’s a sad sight to see.
We can help them by waiting to start work until after the swifts have departed in August/September, by replacing lost nest sites with swift bricks in new walls or by installing nest boxes. We would love to know if you have swifts in your area as we would like to encourage more people to install swift boxes.
Swifts are amazing birds – summer would not be the same without them!!
For information on nest bricks and boxes visit www.swift-conservation.org or contact us at Barnet and Enfield Swifts Group.