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Birds by name
23 July 2013
Image: Graham Catley
Because of the length of the wings and shortness of the legs, most swifts (with the exception of very few strong adults) are unable to take off from a flat surface.
Hence, once grounded, they are trapped and doomed to death. As such a young swift gets only one chance to become airborne. If all goes well, it will fly non-stop until it returns to breed.
If you find a grounded swift, check that there are no obvious injuries, that the breast is not sharp and thin (starving) and that any flight feathers are not still in sheathing (young bird).
If the bird is not injured, take it to an upstairs window (for an adult bird an outstretched arm when standing up may be adequate) and place it on the palm of your hand, head facing outwards. Gently raise and lower your arm, thus allowing the bird to feel the air under its wings. It should then start taking an interest and usually takes off with confidence.
If it is reluctant to leave and is either in poor condition or a young bird, make it comfortable in a box. Regardless of age, a swift is unable to pick food from the ground, and is reliant on being fed.
Since a swift is extremely difficult to care for in captivity, it should be passed on to an expert rehabilitator as soon as possible. Offer it water in a cotton bud or end of a finger to prevent dehydration. Swifts, being totally aerial, need their wings to be in perfect condition. If a wing is damaged, you should seek the help of a vet.