If you are going to have company for the whole of the summer, you couldn’t get better house guests than swifts, who will be arriving soon for their annual trip.
In fact, if they were to answer a ‘housemates wanted’ ad they would be very clean, stay only 12 weeks per year and be very helpful in getting rid of mosquitoes and other flying insects.
But despite being low maintenance, swifts are facing an accommodation crisis, and the RSPB is now appealing for help for these intriguing birds over the summer.
“Swifts have declined by an alarming 38% since 1995 and are now an amber-listed species on the list of Birds of Conservation Concern. We don’t know the exact cause of their decline - it could be a variety of issues along their flyway, including loss of insect food availability or climate change - but the RSPB believes loss of nest sites in the UK is at least partly responsible" says Rebeccca Pitman, RSPB Swift Cities Project Officer.
“Swifts could become extinct as a breeding species in the UK if we don’t all do something about their plight.”
When swifts arrive back in the UK they return to the exact same location year after year, meaning if you create a haven for them now it could pay dividends in years to come. They like to nest in the rooftops of old buildings but renovation and development often destroys suitable sites.
So just what can we all do to help these vulnerable birds?
The RSPB is launching the new national ‘Swift Cities Project’ to stop and reverse the decline of swifts. And you can get involved in lots of different, such as:
- Noting your swift sightings to the RSPB Swift Survey at rspb.org.uk/swift survey. This will provide essential data on swift nest site locations to assist planners and developers to protect and enhance swift colonies through the future
- Leave existing nest sites undisturbed and avoid working on walls or roofs with swifts nesting in them during the breeding season, which runs from May to August
- When repairing or restoring a roof keep swifts in mind: make sure new access holes match the location of the old ones.
- Put up swift nest boxes at home and play swift calls to attract them
- Comment on local planning applications, asking your local authority to protect and provide swift nest places.
Did you know?
- Swifts are some of the last spring migrants to arrive in the UK, but will be among the first to leave. They only remain in Britain from April to August. At the beginning of the summer they fly from Africa to the UK to nest and raise their chicks. Over the course of their 6,000 mile journey they never touch the ground; eating and sleeping whilst in flight
- Their diet consists of insects like flies, mosquitoes and midges. Swifts collect insects by making a ball of food (or “bolus”) in their throat, which can contain up to 1,000 insects. They feed the chicks many times a day and the parents can gather as many as 100,000 insects a day
- Swifts fly on average 800 km every day (nearly 500 miles), and about 2 million km (more than 1.2 million miles) in a lifetime, which is more than four trips to the Moon and back
- Their nests are minimal, made from stuff they collect in the air, such as feathers, paper, straw, hay and seeds. These materials are cemented with saliva and used to build a nest in open eaves, under loose roof tiles and in holes in walls. After the chicks have fledged most of the nest is disposed of by invertebrates and the remaining is often reused year after year.