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Swift flying over house
Swift in coudy sky

Act swiftly

for swifts

Swifts are special summer visitors to the UK. But as suitable nesting sites disappear, they urgently need our help

It won't be long before swifts will be making their epic 6,000-mile journey to the UK from Africa to bring up their chicks.

Swifts usually arrive during May, and immediately make their presence known with their loud screams. Their call is unmistakable: a piercing screech that gives them their nicknames “Devil Bird” and “Devil's Screecher”.

They can also be recognised by their death-defying aerial acrobatics and high-speed chases that form part of their courtship display.

Swifts are designed specifically for speedy flight. With their aerodynamic bodies, forked tails, and long, narrow, crescent-shaped wings, they can reach speeds of over 60 miles per hour – and out-fly most predators.

And it's just as well that swifts are so good at flying, as they spend almost all their lives on the wing, feeding on flying insects – and even sleeping in the air, using warm air currents to spiral high into the sky. The short nesting season is the only time they land.

Struggle to find homes

But for many swifts, the chance to nest and lay their eggs will be thwarted. Our buildings are changing. Until recently, swifts would have made their homes under eaves – but now the spaces we used to leave for them are gone. Modern buildings lack the nooks and crannies they need, and swifts are struggling to find homes.


So these fantastic birds are now vanishing from our summer skies. Sadly, their numbers have declined by half in just 20 years.

Fortunately, though, there are ways to help them. There are special swift nestboxes available, and if you're having a building constructed or renovated, there's also the option of the 'swift brick'. This replaces a standard house brick and can easily be installed by a builder. Swift nestboxes and swift bricks can work especially well when put up in groups – swifts like to be near other swifts.

Providing as many such homes as possible could help halt the decline in swift numbers. And just 1,000 new nestboxes across the UK could make a huge difference.

“We know how to give swifts the new homes they need – now let's bring them back to our towns and cities!” says RSPB swift lead Jamie Wyver.

Good neighbours

Having swifts as neighbours is something many homeowners enjoy. Research in 2018 – by University of Gloucestershire Masters student Sarah Roberts – showed that people welcome the birds living on the outside of their homes. When asked whether they thought built-in boxes for bats or for birds like swifts were a good idea, 61% were positive and 36% unconcerned about having them in their own homes.

“We need local councils and developers on board, as they have the power to make an enormous difference,” Jamie Wyver says.

“Think of all the new building that's going on around the UK. With a few tiny changes, we could be providing millions of homes for swifts.”

Some developers are already integrating swift homes into new buildings.

Prince Charles' Duchy of Cornwall estate has a policy of providing one swift box for every new home on average and has already installed more than 500 swift boxes in Duchy developments from Cornwall to Oxfordshire – with thousands more in the pipeline.

Barratt Developments Plc has added 200 swift boxes on its Kingsbrook estate in Aylesbury, and the company has plans to install many more around the country.

After flying its nest for the first time, a young swift may spend two or three years in the air – eating, drinking, sleeping, bathing and even mating!

Once swifts arrive in the UK in late April to early May, they spend their time soaring and swooping over rooftops catching insects to eat. And as they are only around for the months of May, June, July and August, they are a true symbol of summer.

Find out more at

Across the UK there are also dedicated swift experts and volunteers working to save swifts, including Swift Conservation and Action for Swifts.

Little Green Space March 2019