SWIFT (Apus apus)


Swifts are the poster bird for freedom, spending almost their entire lives on the wing, except for nesting. Summer migrants, they arrive in the UK around April to begin breeding, before returning to sub-Saharan Africa for the warmer weather.

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Alert Status:

Red - 60% decline ↓

Estimated number of UK breeding

pairs: 59,000 (updated 2016)

Listen to Swift song:


Swifts are black all over, often looking like black silhouettes when in flight. Their bodies become more of a dark brown during the summer months with slight pale patches under the wing and throat. Their wings are curved, often referred to as the shape of a boomerang or sickle, with long deeply forked tail.

Average Length: 16-17 cm

Average Lifespan: 9-10 Years

Average Wingspan: 42-48 cm

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Swift diet

Swifts feed on the wing and catching a wide range of winged insects and spiders. As they do not take food from feeders, encouraging insects to your garden is a great way to increase your chance of seeing a swift.

Swift breeding and nesting information

Swifts mate for life, and usually meet up with their mate year on year at the same nesting area. Though they can reproduce as young as 1 year old, they normally don’t produce a successful brood until around 4 years old when the mature. The nest will be constructed high up in a nesting hole, often in the space of older buildings, where all the construction materials are gathered in the air. Many years ago nests would have been built in cliff faces, tall trees and other natural holes in the environment. A variety of nesting materials are used, including hay, paper, and feathers, essentially anything that floats! When the pair returns each year, they revamp their old nesting site and add new materials to renovate the space. They produce 1 brood a year, with 2-3 eggs produced in a clutch. Incubation takes approximately 3 weeks around May-June.

Threats to swifts

Building development has thought to be one of the major causes of decline in swifts. The destruction and redevelopment of various buildings had reduced the number of holes available for nesting. New buildings often do not have areas suitable for nesting of swifts, but you can provide specialised nest boxes or swift bricks. Another potential cause of their decline is the reduction of available insect prey.

How you can help

Place specially designed swift nest boxes for them to nest in

Plant nectar rich flowers to attract insects  

If you have the space, a pond is a great way to encourage wildlife into your garden and will bring winged insects along with it

Fascinating Fact

Swifts are airborne for 99% of the time that they are not breeding. Some individuals never settle at all, and younger swifts can spend up to 3 years before choosing to breed, spending almost that entire time on the wing.
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BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Apus apus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 20/06/2022.  

Hedenström, A., Norevik, G., Warfvinge, K., Andersson, A., Bäckman, J., Åkesson, S. (2016) Annual 10-Month Aerial Life Phase in the Common Swift Apus apus. Current Biology. 26(22):3066-3070.

Robinson, R.A. (2005) BirdFacts: profiles of birds occurring in Britain & Ireland. BTO, Thetford (http://www.bto.org/birdfacts, accessed on 28 March 2022)

Stanbury, A.J., Eaton, M.A., Aebischer, N.J., Balmer, D., Brown, A.F., Douse, A., Lindley, P., McCulloch, N., Noble, D.G., Win, I. (2021) The status of our bird populations: the fifth Birds of Conservation Concern in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man and second IUCN Red List assessment of extinction risk for Great Britain. British Birds. 114 

Woodward, I., Aebischer, N., Burnell,D., Eaton, M., Frost, T., Hall, C., Stroud, D. & Noble, D. (2020) Population estimates of birds in Great Britain and the United Kingdom. British Birds. 113: 69–104.

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