Three swifts in flight, spain

Revealing swift secrets

How's this for cool science? Dozens of swifts nesting around Belfast and Lough Neagh have been fitted with tiny GPS 'backpack' trackers weighing less than 1 g, in a bid to shed light on where they are finding food.

Swifts are amazing

They travel around 12,000 miles every year by migrating from breeding sites here in Northern Ireland to their African wintering grounds.

Sadly, in recent years, the UK swift population has declined dramatically and they're now on the Amber List of birds of conservation concern.

In order to help swifts, we need to know where they're nesting and feeding. And that's where the tiny backpacks come in.

Swifts may feed many miles away from where they nest so it’s vital that both their feeding and their nesting sites are protected. Tiny technology is making the previously impossible possible.


Dozens of swifts nesting around Belfast and Lough Neagh have been fitted with tiny GPS 'backpack' trackers weighing less than 1 g.

The swifts wear the tiny backpacks for just a few days. Every hour, these record each bird's location - with an accuracy of just a few metres!

After recovering the backpacks the team at RSPB Northern Ireland can see, on screen, where the birds spent each hour of the previous few days – offering a unique and unprecedented insight into their behaviour.

We hope to learn where nesting birds from specific colonies forage when they leave the nest, including differences in behaviour between swifts making their home in urban areas and those in rural colonies.

Swift GPS tag

Exciting project

This exciting, new project took flight, thanks to a partnership between RSPB Northern Ireland, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the Northern Ireland Swift Group.

The data collected will be invaluable in protecting one of the most special and threatened migratory birds to make its home here in Northern Ireland.

Swifts flying over rooftops
Swifts flying

Find out more

You can find out more about swifts, view pictures and hear their calls on our bird guide.

Swifts can be confused with three similar, but unrelated species: swallows, house martins and sand martins.

In urban areas, house martins are most likely to cause confusion. Swifts have a forked tail and scythe-shaped wings, while swallows have long tail ‘streamers’ and house martins have a distinctive white rump.