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Swifts in decline

In about a month Swifts will return to Britain and those of us lucky enough to have a local population will be thrilled by their high-speed flight and screaming calls - a key sound of summer - and the more you get to know about them the more fascinating they are. The only time these birds land is during the breeding season and we have a responsibility to look after them. 

However, Swift numbers have been dropping for some years and part of the problem seems to be destruction of traditional nest sites by restoration of buildings. It is  now common for building techniques not to preserve any of the nooks and crannies that Swifts prefer. This is particularly significant in older factory buildings and Edwardian and Victorian houses. You can find a lot more about the problem and ways in which we can all help to do something about it at

Your local Wildlife Trust and ornithological society are almost certainly involved with this issue and will have information on how you can help. Particularly important now is recording of nest sites (which can be surprisingly hard to find) so that they can be protected. If you have local knowledge it will be very useful - you may know of a nest on your street or your house (lucky you) which would take someone else ages to find. 

It is just as easy for builders to preserve or replace nest sites as it is to destroy them and techniques have been tried and tested across Europe. Swift Conservation have worked with major developers to provide Swift nest sites, so this isn't a conflict, rather it can be a win-win. If you get the chance to attend a Swift Conservation meeting or event you'll be inspired.



  • I remember seeing Swifts locally to where I lived years ago. But sadly, I haven't seen one in a very, very long time now. 

  • pansyfacepansyface PEAK DISTRICT DerbyshirePosts: 21,267

    Unless other countries get their act together we are fighting a losing battle.

    This doesn't necessarily cover swifts.

    Apophthegm -  a big word for a small thought.
  • Gillian53Gillian53 Posts: 112

    Last year there was a letter from a gentleman in our local paper complaining about the council's destruction of a known swift nesting site. Apparently the council were re roofing some local estate and changing the fascia etc. and in the process disturbed/damaged the regular nesting site which had been used for years. In response a spokesman explained that someone had surveyed the site before the work was carried out and they found no evidence of any nests or birds. Probably because they carried out the survey in February!!! 

  • 4thPanda4thPanda Posts: 4,145

    We are lucky enough to have them bomb around our estate image screaming across the garden image Not lucky enough to have a nest on the house, but there are a lot round my way. I keep thinking that one day I will buy a man made nest and attach it to the house in the hope they will find it image

    I am surprised that they couldn't "find" the nests as they are there permanently and they will reuse nests year on year.  I would suggest that they just didn't look hard enough image

  • WelshonionWelshonion Posts: 3,114
    We have swifts on the house every year. The sparrows have taken over the hole in the wall so they go in swift boxes now.

    They scream round the house but they are very discreet when they go in the boxes.
  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 82,305

    Norwich has lots of Victorian terraces with old pantile roofs - lots of swifts screaming in the skies each summer - wonderful image

    “I am not lost, for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.” Winnie the Pooh

  • GemmaJFGemmaJF Posts: 2,286

    Gillian that is so typical of wildlife surveys. I've seen newt surveys carried out in January, absolutely ridiculous that a bird survey would be done outside of the nesting season for a summer visitor.

    I'm very cynical these days, the surveys are for planning departments and they don't know any better, so the developers get away with it all the time.

    It takes somebody local to monitor every single planning application and make a fuss to change anything. Sadly something few people have the time to do. I did it for a while but ended up with a house full of paperwork and getting very frustrated with the whole system.

    Sadly it is the ecological consultants who ought to be saying something about the timing of surveys. Though as with many industries these days there are cowboys who will do anything to get a contract, including carrying out surveys at the wrong time. Unfortunately because they can be relied upon by the developers to never find anything, the work keeps rolling in for them. image

  • Gillian/Gemma,

    It's really up to all of us to do as much as we can to change the culture, perhaps by making representations direct to local planning authorities or via wildlife trusts or other local groups. Don't expect to win every situation, but believe me, there is a lot of support for the birds. We can use local news media to raise awareness. Larger companies have a lot to gain by being able to tick an 'environmental' box.

    Gillian, your particular example is unfortunately typical of the lackadaisical approach of people who ought to know better. They should be made aware that Swifts leave very little evidence of nesting; what little material they use biodegrades very quickly and they take all the droppings away from the nest. The only evidence of nesting is really observation of adults and young. So the more records that we can provide the better.

    4thPanda - it takes a while for Swifts to adopt nest sites, and a lot of the Swifts that are bombing around are young birds that are not yet breeding - they may not start till their 3rd or 4th year. They do tend to distract you from the nests that are in use! See the website for ways to attract Swifts.

  • I thought that as Swifts are now back I'd bump this thread back to the top. The project is gaining a lot of interest around the country and there will almost certainly be something going on where you live; the co-ordinating organisations mentioned above are the best sources of information and encouragement to do some Swift work.

    Anything you can do, any records or information on nest sites will be much appreciated. A few records will be much better than none at all, so don't feel you have to cover the whole district. Be a bit careful taking notes and looking at house roofs through binoculars though - they're quite close to bedroom windows!


  • WonkyWombleWonkyWomble SuffolkPosts: 4,307

    I had a lone swift give me an amazing flight display as I sat at my upstairs window! It circled the house for five minutes! And came so close to the window I could see it very clearly! A real show off! I live in the centre of Ipswich but we get them every year! I'm happy to say. image

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