Shropshire Star

Swift help needed for Shropshire's seasonal visitors

If you were asked to name migratory animals, what do you think of first? Would it be the massive migration of wildebeest, desperately dodging crocodiles as they cross churning rivers? Or perhaps the leaping Atlantic salmon returning to their spawning gravels in the clean headwaters of their natal rivers?

A swift in flight. Photo: Carol Wood

One epic migration that you may not have thought about before is that of the swift, Apus apus.

The Shropshire Swift Group raise awareness about these awe-inspiring birds and aim to halt the decline of breeding swifts in the county. They undertake surveys to monitor where swifts are nesting and encourage the protection and provision of nesting sites wherever possible.

This unassuming sooty brown bird with its sleek scythe shape, acrobatic flying style and distinctive ‘screaming’ calls will have travelled 3,400 miles from Africa to build a nest and raise its chicks. We start to see them in Shropshire in May and for many they are a reassuring sign that spring has arrived – a welcome return to warmer, lighter days.

Sadly, they don’t stay for long and in August they make the long return journey to overwinter in the African sun.

What else is special about these birds apart from their long migration? Something extraordinary about swifts is that they live completely on the wing apart from when they nest. This means they eat, collect all their nest material, mate and even sleep whilst flying! They are the fastest birds in level flight with a top speed of 69mph! When the young swifts are ready to fledge, they fly out of the nest and never return, often leaving straight away for Africa. They need no tuition in flying and have been seen to do ‘press ups’ in the nest to strengthen their wings.

Sadly, as for so many of our wonderful creatures, swifts are struggling and their population has halved over the last 20 years. Factors such as a changing climate and weather patterns, substantially less insects on which to feed and loss of nest sites are contributing to this decline. Whilst the first two are large and complex problems requiring a global solution, the third problem is relatively straightforward for any of us to improve.

Group of swifts. Photo: Anna Harlow

Swifts pair for life and return to the same nest each year to rest, lay and incubate their eggs. They choose to nest in small holes inside roofs and as people renovate their houses and make their homes more energy efficient by blocking up holes they can accidentally cut off access to the swift’s nest site.

Happily, there are solutions! It is possible to install a special swift brick which can be used in place of standard bricks when renovating to replicate the swift nest. Alternatively, a swift nest box can be attached to the outside of the wall near the to the existing nest site.

If you have swifts nesting in your house or street please let us know, and if you need advice about nest bricks or boxes then also please get in touch. You can visit the Facebook Shropshire Swift Group or contact Anna Harlow who is coordinating the Shrewsbury section of the Shropshire Swift Group at

By Anna Harlow - Contributor

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