Monday, 11 August 2014

Swifts - Gone Too Soon!


It’s been a few days now since I last saw a Common Swift from my garden. They arrived later this year on May 5th, during the last ten years the first arrival date has been April 23rd to 28th.  With the last sightings 18th – 24th August. So this year, disappearing almost 2 weeks early and arriving a week late, I feel as though I have been robbed of three weeks of joy, watching the Swifts from my garden!

They peaked this year at around 50 in early to mid-July, the highest count in recent years from my garden. Which was fantastic to both watch and listen to as this aerial specialist graced the sky with it's characteristic ‘screams’ as they sore overhead, feeding on insects at rooftop height and higher.

Now at the height of summer, having bred, they are starting to leave our shores, heading south for Southern Africa. On route they will encounter many perils including shooting, adverse weather and predators, before they reach their destination, usually by late October or early November.

The swift spends most of its life on the wing, with young birds, which are not yet breeding, remaining permanently airborne for one to three years. Swifts eat, mate and sleep on the wing, only landing when they need to lay and incubate eggs, and feed young in the nest.

Natural nest sites would be located in the crevices of cliffs, but London architecture can also provide good nesting sites. Unfortunately for the swift, many of our modern buildings are built with energy conservation in mind (and rightly so) but this leads to a lack of crevice spaces in our roofs and fewer places for swifts to breed, but the inclusion of swift boxes can rectify this.

In addition to this, swifts feed exclusively on insects but many insect species are in decline. The loss of nesting habitat and insect food sources has led to a steep decline of swifts in recent years. Although, this year appears to have been good for them, warm sunny skies make for the most productive insect hunting.  It is essential though, if this iconic species is to remain a part of London's summer skies, that further work on improving building design and providing habitats for insects in our urban landscape takes place.

We can all do a little to help our Swifts and by each of us doing a little, we can actually help a lot. Installing a Swift nesting box is one way, or planting native pollen rich flowers for our insects is another. For more ideas check out www.swift-conservation.org, an organisation that works specifically on promoting their conservation needs, with some great tips and nest boxes to purchase.