For just 12 weeks a year, Common Swifts bring our urban skies to life, lifting the spirits of city-dwelling birders.

On their return at the beginning of May, these long-distance flyers will have just completed the epic 6,000-mile journey from sub-Saharan Africa.

Many will be returning to their traditional nesting sites and others finding places to set up home for the first time.

But there's a problem: the screaming summer soundtrack that swifts provide is becoming quieter and has even disappeared from many areas. In fact, we've lost over half of our breeding swifts in just 20 years. With a bird that travels through around 25 different countries twice a year, covering a vast area of the globe, it can be hard to pinpoint what's causing a decline. 

What we do know is that, in the UK, the nesting places that swifts rely on are vanishing – modern buildings don't have the nooks and crannies that the birds have adapted to use. In addition, holes previously used by swifts are being blocked up as we tidy up our properties. As swifts are site-faithful, this makes life very difficult for them – after such an arduous journey, the last thing they need to be doing is expending time and energy searching for a new site.

swift nest box and speaker

How you can help

Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to help your local swifts. First, do you have anywhere on your home, workplace – or other building you use – where a swift nestbox (or two – or more, they're colony nesters!) can be put up? If you're having a building constructed or renovated there's also the option of a 'swift brick' which fits neatly inside the wall cavity. 

It's worth remembering that swifts are long-lived birds and take a while to find new homes, so be patient if your nestbox or brick isn't occupied immediately. It may take a few years, but this is a long-term investment – and well worth the wait! Other birds, such as House Sparrows, may use some of the boxes in the meantime but since they need a helping hand too, it's not much of an issue.

Read the full article here


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