One swift and one epic journey

One of our most incredible summer migrants, swifts travel to us from the forests and savannas of East Africa to our towns and cities and back again. Many species make long migrations to their breeding sites but swifts can make their epic journeys without ever landing and at speeds of up to 70mph.

Swifts have been making their epic journeys for generations and during this time many of the landscapes below them have changed beyond recognition. Where there was once woodlands, meadows and wetlands, there are now buildings, roads and a landscape of concrete. As Nature is being destroyed on a vast scale, the arduous journeys swifts and other migrant species make back to their breeding areas gets tougher every year.

Common Swift (Apus-apus) Group in flight.

In 2021, swifts were added to the UK’s list of most endangered birds, which means safeguarding stopover sites along flyways is vital for their survival. Many of these important sites are already under threat, such as the Tagus Estuary in Portugal, where there are plans to build an airport and endanger thousands of migrant birds.

As our swifts make it back to the UK after a 3,400 mile journey from Eastern Africa they face further difficulties, like finding a save place to nest. Hundreds of years ago they would have used gaps in rocks, holes in trees and old buildings. As we start to repair and renovate more and more of their traditional nesting sites, they are finding the way barred. Many swifts used to nest in old stonework or under thatch in houses, church towers and other buildings but now roofs are renovated and soffits are sealed up. If swifts are unable to find suitable nesting sites their already dwindling population is likely to continue to decline.

Common Swift (Apus apus)

The answer comes in the form of special swift nesting bricks or nest boxes. These can be added by the house owner to make their home more wildlife friendly. They provide a small snug and watertight cavity and give the swift a good chance to raise a family. If successful these new young swifts by mid August will be ready to make their first migration back to East Africa. Once they are airborne they won’t land again for 2 or 3 years when they will make the same 3,400 mile journey back to the UK, ready to raise a family of their own.

Report by Colin Strudwick.

An European passerine Common swift, looking out of a nesting box during summertime.