Species of the Month - June 2016: Swifts

This year, Herefordshire Wildlife Trust is running a new series taking a closer look at one key species of flora or fauna each month. For June, we are looking at the swift…

Image: Stefan Johansson

The swift (Apus apus)

Flock of swifts (image: Keta - wikimedia)The swift is a medium-sized, brown bird (though often appearing black in flight,) with a small pale patch on the throat, long, curved wings and a short, forked tail. The swift is known for its tremendous flying skills – eating, drinking, mating and sleeping on the wing. After fledging, birds spend three years continually in flight until they build their first nest at the age of four. Swifts pair for life and also return to the same nest site each year too. These nest sites are often under the eaves of houses, or in churches, and created from a wide range of materials including feathers, paper, straw, hay and seeds. It is cemented together with saliva, and renovated and reused year after year.

For its size, the swift has an exceptionally long life-span, averaging about 5.5 years.

Where to see them

Swifts arrive back from their overwintering sites in Africa in late May or early June. Their autumn migration then takes place from late July through August. Aside from spotting their nests on the outsides of buildings, you may often see swifts in large groups wheeling over roofs and calling to each other with their distinctive, high-pitched ‘screaming’ call.

How to help swifts to thrive

Swift (image: Pawel Kuzniar - wikimedia)The modernisation of many buildings has resulted in loss of nesting sites, so protecting current sites (it is an offence intentionally to take, damage or destroy the eggs, young or nest of a swift whilst it is being built or in use under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981) and creating new sites is very important. Specially developed swift nest boxes can be fitted either within the eaves of a house or on the wall under the eaves though, because swifts need height to take off, single storey buildings are not suitable. To stop other birds using the nest box, block the opening until your local swifts return. Herefordshire Mammal Group are also currently undertaking a Bat and Swift Box Installation Project in ten churches across the county.

The legs of a swift are so short in comparison to its long wings that it can struggle to walk or take off from the ground. If you find a swift on the ground that is not obviously injured, place it on your hand and encourage it to take off by slowly raising your arm up and down.

Get in touch

If you spot a swift – or any other species - please do let us know! You can submit records online at www.herefordshirewt.org, email them to us at records@herefordshirewt.co.uk or write to us at Lower House Farm, Ledbury Road, Hereford, HR1 1UT.