Swifts in Bury 2021

We have been provided with the following article titled ‘Bury Swifts’ by Paul Stevens

Swifts are the quintessentially British site and sound of high summer around our cities, towns and villages.

They visit our shores for only the months of May, June and July, spending the rest of the year travelling to and from Southern Africa, a round trip of some 14,000 miles as the swift flies! What is even more remarkable is that when a fledgling flies from the nest it doesn’t normally land again for ten months or even more. They may well take two to three years before they settle with a mate into their own nest site. Once chosen the nest site and mate are for life which can be as much as twenty years. 

Just imagine for a moment travelling all the way to Africa and then ten months later trying to find your way back to a 30 mm by 70mm hole in a wall or nest box!!

Some of you may be wondering how they can sleep on the wing? 

It has been shown that swifts will ascend to great heights at dusk, around ten thousand feet, usually out over the sea. Here they spend the hours of darkness cat napping while they slowly descend.

Why come all the way to nest in the UK? 

Swift only eat insects and usually those that are flying in the higher air space. Summer in the UK provides a spike of insect abundance at just the same time as the adult swifts are feeding their young, something that only happens in the rainy season on the African continent and is less predictable.

 My love affair with Swifts started in my childhood when I remember watching them screaming up Church Street in Steyning.

It wasn’t until we moved into our house in Bury Common that I realised the gable end which faces west could be an ideal site to place some nesting boxes to entice swifts to start a colony here. That was ten years ago!

I started by making suitable sized nest boxes fitted as high as I could get them on our west facing gable. This provided clear approaches for swifts to prospect them during June and July. I also started playing the calls of nesting swifts through a small sound system with a little tweeter speaker attached near the entrance to the boxes. Non breeding birds are attracted to this to see if there are any other available nest sites close to existing ones. This is why you see groups of swifts flying around certain houses and churches.

After many years of attention, finally last year 2020 two pairs decided it was time to build nests in my boxes. They brought in feathers, pieces of grass and thistle down, caught in the air, which they stick to the base of the nest box form (a shallow wooden depression provided within the box) with their saliva. They did this for the rest of the summer and at the end of July headed back to Africa. With the nest prepared for the following year it was now the long winter wait for their return.

On the 30th April 2021, the first swift returned to its nest box, now with a camera installed. After nearly two weeks its partner arrived and they began to mutually preen each other. The second pair arrived soon after, but with the cold spring weather that we have had, egg laying has only just started as I write with two eggs in the first pairs nest cup. I am hopeful that this summer will see the first young swifts to fledge from my house and who knows next year they may return to start looking for their own nest site.

If you haven’t seen or noticed this high-speed spectacle now is the time to look. During warm weather, in the early morning up to around 10am and then again an hour or so before dusk are the best times to watch.

Most of our towns and villages have colonies of swifts and in Bury there is a colony around Coombe Crescent/Houghton Lane with up to 30 swifts being seen screaming over the roof tops during July.

However numbers of swifts have fallen by up to 50% over the last two decades and one of the reasons is that their nest sites have been renovated, excluding them from their traditional abode. This is usually roofing and soffit improvements which remove the gaps that they so desperately need. They are easy to keep in place but obviously you need to be aware that they exist in the first place. Returning swifts can literally bash themselves to exhaustion trying to get into a nest site that has been blocked.

A lack of insects is also thought to be a major factor in the decline so letting your lawns flower and growing native plant species will maximise the amount of insects available to swifts and many other insectivorous birds and animals.

So if you already have swifts nesting in your house please preserve them for future generations. If you want to attract swifts to start your own colony or for advice on any other wildlife please get in touch at:


Mobile: 07584323235

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