Swifts – The Sound of Summer

by Sarah Dobson Wildlife Urban Birds Birds Author - Rebecca Ashwood

“They’ve made it again, Which means the globe’s still working, the Creation’s Still waking refreshed, our summer’s Still all to come” (Ted Hughes ‘Swifts’) [caption id="attachment_1716" align="aligncenter" width="385"]Swift, A.apus, three in flight, Spain Swift, A.apus, three in flight, Spain[/caption] The birds you can see at the moment performing aerial acrobatics and skidding madly over houses in Brighton and Lewes in their ‘screaming parties’ are swifts. Each summer we look forward to welcoming home ‘our’ swifts from their winter grounds in Africa, as one of the iconic sights and sounds of summer over our city and towns. Swifts are the best house guests you could ever dream of, so please help by welcoming them to your home! As the fastest birds in level flight, swifts travel non-stop from Central Africa and return faithfully each May to the same nest sites to raise their baby swiftlets. Incredibly, swifts spend almost their entire life on the wing – including eating, mating and sleeping – and the only time they ‘land’ is when they enter a nest to breed. Fact. Indeed, it’s estimated that swifts fly around 190,000 kms each year, including an average of 500 kms per day! Lunch in Paris anyone?! We are incredibly lucky to be able to enjoy these stunning migrant birds, as their numbers have been in steep decline: more than 40% fewer swifts than just 20 years ago. Because of this they are now an amber-listed species on the list of Birds of Conservation Concern. These birds really do deserve our respect and help! The reduction in swift numbers is in part due to a loss of nest sites. Swift colonies tend to be loyal to nesting sites, returning annually for many generations to nest inside the roof space of older houses in particular. Ironically, the more we insulate and protect our homes, the fewer opportunities swifts have to breed – as they rely on very small gaps in roofs to make your house their home. But you can do something about this! swift on wall (lr) Many of the swifts flying over Brighton & Lewes will be nesting here but you probably wouldn’t even know it. Why not? Because they:
  • Are very quiet when on the nest
  • Only present for 12 weeks a year
  • Leave (next to) no trace
So what can you do to help swifts? Consider putting up a simple, unobtrusive and inexpensive swift nest box. Visit the link above or Swift Conservation for a wide selection of readymade or DIY options.
  • If you are putting up scaffolding to work on the roof, try and be bird-friendly and don’t do this in breeding season of May-August (this applies to ALL roof nesting birds).
  • Tell us if you have seen swifts flying low in between houses at street level (this means they might be nesting nearby), or especially if entering a possible nest site. The more we know about where they are, the more we can do to protect them and encourage others to join in.
Do please get in touch if you have any questions about helping swifts or if you would like to get more involved.  As a community, we can come together to protect these magnificent animals in our Biosphere. Rebecca Ashwood Volunteer Swift Advisor at the RSPB, SE area office - Brighton Rebecca.ashwood@rspb.org.uk Helpful links: RSPB swift survey Action for Swifts Sussex Ornithological Society  
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