RSPB launches new swift mapper app and calls on public to help save one of the fastest birds in our skies

By Jenna Hutber

Tuesday 12 May 2020

The RSPB is calling on the public to help record where swifts are nesting to help us understand where the best places are to help these amazing birds.

Every year swifts make incredible journeys from Africa to the UK to nest in gaps in roof tiles and the eaves of our homes and other buildings.

These small but intrepid birds desperately need our help. Their numbers are falling sharply and in just 20 years more than half of our swifts have vanished. The RSPB believes loss of nest sites is at least partly responsible. They return from Africa to the same spot each year to breed in gaps under roof tiles and eaves but the way we build homes has changed and swifts are returning to discover their nest site has gone or access is blocked.  

But there is something very easy the public can do to help. Together with our partners Action for SwiftsNatural ApptitudeSwift Conservation and the Swifts Local Network we’ve developed Swift Mapper; a web-based mapping system with mobile app.

By reporting where you see nesting swifts on Swift Mapper you’ll help to build a picture of where swift nest sites need to be protected and where it would be best to provide new nest sites.

Watch out for groups of swifts flying fast at roof height, often calling out loudly – this means they’re breeding nearby. Swifts nest in holes, so we’d also like to know if you see swifts entering holes in buildings – usually high up under the eaves. 

The best time to look for nesting swifts is from late May to late July, around dusk on a warm, still evening or early in the morning.

RSPB UK Migrants Recovery Programme Manager, Guy Anderson said: “Swifts are true globetrotters, flying thousands of miles, but returning each year to nest in the very eaves of our homes. Just look at that Swift - back to its nest in your house, or local church tower, or old factory building – and think about it for a moment.  It weighs about the same as a small chocolate bar.  But it spent the winter in the skies over central Africa. Maybe over the Congo basin rainforest? Maybe over Malawi or Mozambique? It likely hasn’t stopped flying since it left its nest site last year.”

“But numbers of these dauntless birds are plummeting, and they need our help.

“If you are lucky enough to have nesting swifts close to your home – you can help. You don’t need a garden or even to leave your house. Simply by watching the skies from your living room window in the evening or over an early morning cup of tea, you can help us learn more and protect swifts’ future.”

Sightings of nesting swifts while out exercising are just as useful if you make a note of the location.  

If you’re having trouble downloading the mobile app, try these tips from the  App Store or Google Play. Make sure you also read our Swift Mapper FAQs

Please don’t report swifts flying high in the sky, feeding over water or fields, or away from settlements on Swift Mapper. These birds could have travelled long distances and may not be local breeding birds. Please use BirdTrack instead to record these sightings.

Not sure you’ve seen a swift? Use the RSPB bird identifier to help confirm your sighting or learn more about the difference between swifts, swallows and house martins here.

If you’d like to do even more to help you can provide a home for swifts by putting up a swift box, encourage your local authority to make swifts welcome in your area and donate to the RSPB swift appeal.

Last year the RSPB recorded over 1,000 members of the public put up a swift box. The RSPB is working with developers such as the country’s largest housebuilder Barratt Developments plc to get more swift boxes installed in new homes. It’s still too soon to see nesting pairs in the bricks which have been installed as swifts typically take several years to find new nesting sites. We are hopeful that in just a few years we will have given swift numbers a significant boost by giving them permanent new homes across the country.

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