The week of 16th—23rd June 2018 is the first national Swift Awareness Week. There are events around the country organised by local Swift groups to raise awareness of the birds and their plight. Swifts are astonishing birds. They spend most of their life on the wing, only touching down when nesting in the UK. They travel thousands of miles from the arid climate of Africa to breed in Britain while temperatures are warm before migrating back to Africa afterwards for the winter. Not only that but they also boast to be the fastest bird in level flight with speeds of up to 70mph! Colonies can be heard on summer evenings when the sky is filled by vast ‘screaming parties’ from nearby nesting sites as their rapid flight shows off their acrobatic abilities.
These screaming parties are sadly far less common than they used to be. According to stats from the BTO, numbers have declined by a staggering 51% between the years 1995 and 2015. Why is this? There are numerous factors at play but there a couple of prominent ongoing trends. First, Swifts like to nest in crevices and eaves under roofs of houses. However, refurbishments of old houses, as well as new-build houses, seal these areas off from nesting, so Swifts are losing key habitats in which to nest. Second, the birds’ food source are insects and a recent study has shown that there has been a decline of up to more than 75% of the insect population in the past 30-year period. If you think you don’t see as many squashed bugs as you used to on the front of your car after a summer drive, then you might not be making it up!
The sharp decline in the population is why Swift groups are raising awareness. To combat the loss of nest sites, artificial nest boxes can be installed on the side of your home to create a space for Swifts. Our friends at Bristol Swifts use our cameras to monitor the inside of their nest boxes to see what their local colony is up to!
As part of the awareness week Bristol Swifts are having an open day this weekend to allow the public to learn about Swifts and see live video from inside the nest boxes. You can find out more about the event and the project in general on their website.