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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Summer visitor making a swift exit

June 20, 2009
Summer visitor making a swift exit

You know summer has arrived when you see swifts speeding through the air, screaming their heads off and swooping into crevices in buildings.

But fewer and fewer of us are enjoying this spectacle as the RSPB has discovered that the swift is in serious trouble.

Swift numbers have declined by 47% in the last ten years. And for the first time, the summer migrant has been added to the amber list meaning it is of serious conservation concern. (See note 1).

A major cause of this decline is believed to be the loss of nest sites through building improvement or demolition. They nest almost exclusively on buildings, so they really need our help.

The RSPB is launching a nationwide search to identify where swifts are still seen and could be nesting.

Swifts pair for life and return to the same nest site each spring. Their nests are located high up in the roof spaces under the eaves of old buildings in particular, and renovation, repair or demolition work is leaving many of them homeless.

The wildlife charity is appealing to us all to look out for low-level screaming groups of swifts, a good sign they are breeding nearby, or where we have seen swifts nesting – perhaps entering a roof or hole in the building. They would like any sightings reported to them via a form on their website ( The best time to look is around dusk on a warm, still evening.

Once the charity has discovered more about where swifts are found it will focus its conservation efforts in areas where they are commonly seen and work with the building industry to help birds in buildings.

The RSPB is also suggesting a number of simple measures that could help the fast dwindling swift population.

1. It is crucial to leave any existing nest sites undisturbed where possible. Swifts will use the same nest sites again and again.

2. If you do need to carry out repair work on your roof or faschias and soffits for example, make new nest access holes to match the old ones at exactly the same spot.

3. If you are building a new house, you could create some internal nest spaces at the design stage.

4. If you are unable to do any of these, the other alternative is to fit a custom-made swift box.

Sarah Niemann, RSPB Species Recovery Officer says: “Sharing your house with swifts is a great privilege. They are not obtrusive at all, in fact they make perfect, quiet neighbours. They build their nests right next to the entrance hole so they don’t get into your roof space and they cause no damage.

“The fact they are declining so rapidly is of huge concern to the RSPB, which is why we’re asking people to help us find out where they are so we can focus our efforts in the right place.

“If you see or hear swifts screaming at rooftop level or slipping into holes please tell us!”

Swifts are dark brown but often look black against the sky. Their wings are long and narrow and their tail slightly forked, but not as much as a swallow’s. They have a piercing, screaming call and nest in colonies which makes it appear even louder.

Swifts spend their life almost entirely on the wing and even feed, sleep and mate in flight. They feed exclusively on insects and only come to land when nesting.

They hunt for insects over a wide area and range of habitats from meadows, open water and over woods to the skies above towns and cities. An abundant supply of insects is critical for their survival. Parent swifts collect lots of insects to take back to their chicks – up to 1,000 at once which make a big bulge in their throat. When they have chicks to feed, swifts can gather as many as 100,000 insects a day.