A swift in flight against a clear sky blue background

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.

Follow our swift on her adventure and discover the threats she, and other wildlife, face on the way. Threats that you can help tackle in some very simple ways.

A swift adventure illustration - Gola, West Africa | The RSPB

Gola Rainforest, West Africa - 20 April, 3,400 miles to go

As the sun sinks slowly below the horizon on a humid evening in Gola Rainforest, on the Sierra Leone/Liberia border, a sleek black shape darts through the sky - a swift. Her scythe-like wings carried her to Africa all the way from the UK last autumn and now she’s making the epic journey back.

 

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.

Two farmers in Gola spreading their hands over cocoa beans

A hotspot for life

Gola Rainforest is part of the Guinean Forests of West Africa biodiversity hotspot, one of the most important places for wildlife on the planet. Thousands of plants and animals are found here, but their home is disappearing – an area of forest more than twice the size of Wales was destroyed between 2010 and 2018 in the hotspot. Watch our video to see why this not only has huge implications for the area’s wildlife, but for the world’s climate too.

A sweet way to save nature 

It might sound too good to be true, but by treating yourself to a delicious bar of our Gola Rainforest chocolate, you can help to protect Gola and its wildlife, support the livelihoods of the local community and help tackle climate change too! 


 

A swift adventure illustration - Iberian peninsula | The RSPB

Iberian peninsula, Europe – 5 May, 1,000 miles to go

Having refuelled over the Guinean Forests, our swift sets off north, leaving Africa behind and heading into Europe. Swifts like her have been making this journey for generations, and in that time the landscape below has 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.

Join the call to Revive Our World

Without safe places to rest and refuel en route, many migrant birds won’t make it back to the UK to breed. We must deal with the threats migrating birds face all along their flyways if we want to stop their declines.

Safeguarding stopover sites is vital, yet many are under threat, such as the Tagus estuary in Portugal, where there are plans to build an airport, endangering thousands of migrant birds. This includes black-tailed godwits from a threatened breeding population in the UK.

So, how do we protect our shared wildlife? The RSPB is calling on the UK government to help draw up global agreements aimed at tackling the nature and climate emergency. By signing our petition, you can help to revive our world, making it a better place for you and for nature. 

 

A swift adventure, spring migration, Dover | The RSPB

Dover, England – 15 May, 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 a family. 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 can’t find a place to nest and raise a family, her journey will have been in vain.

A map of an urban area in Britain with markers showing the location of swift sightings

Be a Swift Mapper

If you see swifts entering holes in buildings or groups whizzing around at roof level giving their amazing screaming calls, we’d like to hear about it! By submitting your sightings to Swift Mapper you’ll help build a picture of breeding hotspots, allowing their nests to be protected and new sites created. 

A swift adventure, spring migration, Edinburgh | The RSPB

Edinburgh, Scotland - 20 May

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 come across a special swift brick installed when the house’s owners built an extension. 

A row of houses in a suburban area

Give a swift a home

Swifts have declined by more than half in the last 20 years, and we think that a lack of nest sites could be partly to blame. By installing a swift brick in a wall, or putting up a nestbox, you could give a swift a place to rest and raise a family. 

A swift adventure, spring migration, West Midlothian | The RSPB

Midlothian, Scotland - 30 June

Fast forward five weeks, and our swift now has two hungry mouths to feed. Food might be scarce in her urban surroundings, so she heads to the countryside where she can find enough small flying insects to fill the balloon-like pouch in her throat. As soon as she arrives back at the nest 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 ever migration to Africa. Once airborne, they won’t touch land again for two to three years, until they return to the UK, ready to raise a family of their own.

 

Make space for nature

As gardens are concreted over and our countryside is lost to development and intensive farming, wildlife has been forced to rely on ever smaller pockets of wild space to survive. But if we all do our bit to make wildlife welcome in our patch, we can make a massive difference.

At the RSPB we carefully manage our nature reserves to support wildlife and work with partners to create a connected patchwork of natural places across the UK. You can play your part too, by gardening in a way that supports the insects that swifts and other species rely on, or making your local greenspace more wildlife friendly. 

A frog sitting next to a pond
A montage of products available in the RSPB shop to help swifts

Help save swifts while you shop