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Illustration of swift over a scenic mountain and river

A swift adventure

From the savannas and forests of Africa, to the towns and cities of the UK – and back again – swifts make one of nature’s most incredible journeys.

A map of the swift's flight path from the Sahara to the UK

The migration route of our swifts is an epic adventure from eastern Africa all the way to the UK and back again. This journey is part of a flyway used by millions of birds every year, including other familiar migratory species, like swallows and cuckoos. But swifts are just a little bit special. Not only do they do this journey without ever landing, but they can also travel super-fast, zipping along at speeds of almost 70 mph.


Despite these talents, our swifts are in trouble. The RSPB is working hard to protect them, and you can help too! Find out more as you follow our swift on her adventure.

Illustration of a swift flying over rainforest

Gola Rainforest, West Africa

Scenes of Gola rainforest trees

3400 miles to go.

As the sun sinks slowly below the horizon on a humid evening in the Gola Rainforest, on the Sierra Leone/Liberia border, a sleek black shape darts through the sky: a swift. She has wintered in the skies over the savannahs and woodlands of south-east Africa, and now she’s on the move north. Far below her, secretive pygmy hippos wallow in pools, rare forest elephants push their way through the dense vegetation and chimpanzees prepare their leafy night nests in the trees. This place is buzzing with life, but it’s under threat and its destruction could have serious consequences for us all.


The Gola Rainforest is one of the most important places for wildlife on the planet, but it is disappearing. An area of forest more than twice the size of Wales was destroyed here between 2010 and 2018, mostly for growing commercial crops like cocoa. This has huge implications for the area’s wildlife, and the world’s climate too.

Swift flying over the Iberian peninsula

West Africa to Europe

1000 miles to go.


Having refuelled over the Guinean Forests, our swift sets off north, crossing the western Sahara, leaving Africa behind and the Straits of Gibraltar and heading into Europe. Swifts like her have been making this journey for generations, and in that time many European landscapes below have changed beyond recognition. Where once there was a tapestry of woodlands, meadows and wetlands, now there are roads, buildings and acres of concrete. Nature is being destroyed on a vast scale, making the arduous journeys swifts and other migrant birds take every year even tougher. Without safe places to rest and refuel on along the way, many birds won’t make it back to their nesting areas to breed successfully.

In 2021, swifts were added to the UK’s list of most endangered birds, which means safeguarding stopover sites along their flyway is vital for their survival. Many of these important sites are already under threat, such as the Tagus Estuary in Portugal, where there are plans to build an airport, endangering thousands of migrant birds. This includes birds from the UK’s small and threatened breeding population of black-tailed godwits.

Luckily, our swift finds a swarm of flying insects, and full of energy and triggered by instinct, she continues her migration heading for the UK. 

A swift flying over dover cliffs

Back to the UK

A swift flying up into a swift brick, installed into the wall of a house

400 miles to go.

After flying over Iberia and France, the white cliffs of Dover gradually come in to view as our swift crosses the Channel. She’s made it to the UK! But her journey isn’t over. Now she must find a safe place to nest and raise her family. Hundreds of years ago, she would have nested in gaps in rocks or trees. Now she swoops low around rooftops looking for a tiny gap to squeeze into, but everywhere she goes she finds her way barred – roofs renovated, and soffits sealed up. If she and other swifts can’t find places to nest and raise chicks, their already dwindling population will likely continue to decline.

Swift flying over Edinburgh

Edinburgh, Scotland

An illustration of a swift on a nest

After days of unsuccessful searching, our swift spots a gap in the wall of a house. She banks sharply to make another pass, before disappearing inside. Snug and watertight, the cavity couldn’t be more perfect – in fact, it was designed that way. Our lucky swift has discovered a special swift brick that was added by the house's owners to make their home more wildlife friendly. Swift boxes and swift bricks make ideal homes, and a few together can even start a swift colony. 


Fast forward five weeks, and our swift now has two hungry mouths to feed. Swifts catch tiny insects and spiders on the wing, gathering them up into a ball in their mouths to take back to their chicks. These ‘protein balls’ can contain 500 insects or more! But decades of spraying pesticides in our towns and countryside has had a big impact on our insects. We're trying to find out if this is affecting our swifts.


Illustration of a swift flying over West African plains

Edinburgh, Scotland to Africa, again.

Our swift spends the day searching and eventually arrives back at the nest with enough small flying insects to fill the balloon-like pouch in her throat. Her chicks jostle for attention, hoping to be the first to be fed. If she can find enough food, her chicks will soon be ready to make their first migration to Africa. Once airbourne, they won’t land again for two or three years, when they will make the same journey back to the UK, ready to raise a family of their own.

Swift in flight

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