Warm breeze of swifts to fill spring sky in coming days

Harry Bellew

Wednesday 27 April 2016

Flocks of swifts are expected to fill the sky over the coming days when a change in wind direction will trigger a wave of the charismatic migrant birds to arrive in the UK, signalling that summer is just around the corner.

Every spring close to 90,000 pairs of swifts return to the UK to breed after completing a gruelling 6000 mile flight from Africa to nest and raise their young, before returning in August. Over the course of their mammoth journey they never touch the ground; eating, sleeping and mating while in mid-air at heights of 10,000 ft.

The expected influx of swifts is linked to the shift in wind direction, a more south east breeze in recent days. This shift alters the direction that insects fly in, and as swifts feed on them during mid-flight, they'll follow their meal towards the UK.

Rebecca Pitman, RSPB Swift Project Officer, said: "Across the country there are some lucky households who are fortunate enough to witness one of nature's most spectacular aerobatic shows."
"During the lighter evenings, people will be able to watch the dramatic aerial displays of swifts as they swoop down between houses and old buildings. As numbers start to swell, these displays will become more obvious in urban areas."

Swifts dazzling aerial displays and their distinctive screaming call usually heard in late summer when the fledglings join in, have become a quintessential sign of summer and are many people's indication that the warmer months are just around the corner.

Since 1995, the UK swift population has declined by 38 per cent and has been placed on the amber-list of Birds of Conservation Concern - meaning it is in desperate need of our help. Their decline is possibly down to a number of factors including lack of food available while in flight, climate change and an absence of suitable nest sites.

Rebecca added: "If you're going to have company for the whole of the summer, you couldn't get better house guests than swifts, who are facing a real accommodation crisis. Swifts are only in the country for a short time and practically make no mess where they nest, so they are the ideal tenants to have nesting in your roof. Plus, their fascinating aerobatic displays will keep your family and friends on the edge of their seats throughout summer."

Once swifts arrive back in the UK they will immediately be looking for somewhere to nest - most likely the rooftops of people's homes or old buildings. Amazingly they often use the same nest sites year after year meaning that some colonies can be centuries old. Sadly, many of these sites have been renovated or destroyed so it's essential that we all do what we can to help give them a home.

Three simple steps to help swifts -
1. Give them a home: By putting up a special swift nest box or having a swift brick installed will help tackle the swift housing crisis. The best time to do this is between Sept to Feb when swifts are at their wintering grounds in Africa.
2. Keep your eyes peeled: When you see a swift tell us. The RSPB's swift survey provides essential data on swift nest locations that helps conservationists and developers help protect endangered colonies - rspb.org.uk/swiftsurvey
3. Keep swifts in mind: Avoid disturbing existing nests and avoid work on all walls or roofs with swifts present during the May to August breeding season.

The RSPB's Giving Nature a Home campaign is aimed at tackling the housing crisis facing the UK's threatened wildlife. The charity is asking people to provide a place for wildlife in their own gardens and outdoor spaces - whether it's by planting pollen-rich plants to attract bees and butterflies, putting up a nest box for swifts or digging a pond for frogs.

Tagged with: Country: England Country: UK Topic: Birds and wildlife Topic: Conservation Topic: Giving Nature a Home Topic: Species conservation