Swift: Bird of the Week

The only time the swift spends time at rest is when it is nesting and spends the rest of the time on the wing.

By Kieren Puffett
Published 29 May 2018, 09:36 BST

This incredible bird spends almost its entire life on the wing and even eats, sleeps and mates in flight. They feed exclusively on insects and only come to land when nesting. Their survival is dependent on the abundance of insects. Parent swifts collect insects to take back to their chicks – up to 1,000 at once, which make a big bulge in their throat. When they have chicks to feed, swifts can gather as many as 100,000 insects a day.

Swifts come to the UK in late April or early May and stay with us for around 12 weeks before returning to Africa. The swift is one of the last summer migrants to arrive in the UK and the first to leave.

'Screaming' calls reveal the presence of parties of swifts flying above towns and it’s estimated that swifts fly an average daily total of nearly 500 miles.

The Swift spends most of its life on the wing and the only time it rests is when it is nesting.
Photograph by RSPB Images

However, swifts are in trouble and need our help. Between 1995 and 2015 numbers are down by 51 per cent. It is believed that loss of nest sites is at least partly responsible. These migrant birds return to the same spot each year to breed – usually in buildings, in gaps under roof tiles and eaves. Due to our tendency to seal up buildings during renovation or knock them down, swifts are returning to discover their nest site has gone or access is blocked.

You can help these birds, whose numbers have declined in recent years, by putting up a swift nestbox or installing a ‘swift brick’ where they can raise their chicks. Another way to help is to add your sightings to the RSPB Swift Survey.

Swifts have a distinctive shape and can be spotted in the UK from April or early May where they stay for about 12 weeks before returning to Africa.
Photograph by RSPB Images
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