Blog: Swift Conservation

by Patrick Barrett

Each summer, many familiar sights and sounds envelop the landscapes that surround us. Whether it’s the flowers in bloom or the calls of the migratory birds, few things evoke our connection to the environment than the passing of the seasons, a reminder that the world around us is itself alive and in a constant state of change. During our summer months one such animal whose call and sight could be viewed as the harbinger of summer (and the, sometimes, good weather) is the Swift. Arriving in late April and remaining until the end of August this predominantly African inhabitant spends the most crucial four months of its year in Ireland, its breeding season.

Recognised as the fastest level flier of all bird species, the Swift spends almost the entirety of their lives in the skies, eating, drinking, breeding and even sleeping whilst in flight. Their ability to do almost everything in transit means they can fly up to 500 miles (800 km) in one day, which across an average lifetime they can equate to 2 million miles (over 3,200,000 km). Often found in towns and villages these urban dwellers will seek to build their nests in buildings, gaps under tiles and eaves. Each year on their return, they will seek out the same breeding and nesting grounds they had previously sought shelter in. As many areas around this country, and further afield, continue to renovate, and sometimes completely knock down old buildings, many returning swifts find their old nesting grounds destroyed.

These changes to their environment have seen an over 40% decline of the Swift bird’s population returning to Ireland in just the past 15 years [1]. The loss of breeding Swifts has been felt even greater in the U.K. with an over 50% decline during the same period [2]. While this is seen as a big factor in the birds decline it does not tell the whole story. A 75% drop, over the past 25 years, of the bird’s favourite food (insects) has also had a large impact on the population size of the Swift [3].

While the numbers have been in decline it does not mean that all is yet lost. There are many ways in which we can still help restore this once abundant summer visitor to its former glory.

Here are just some of the ways in which you can help this magnificent animal:

  1. Leave existing nest sites undisturbed
  2. When repairing buildings, make sure new access holes match exactly the location of the old ones
  3. When providing new nest sites build nest boxes into walls, as they last longer
  4. If you can’t make internal spaces, put up external nest boxes
  5. Survey your town building for Swift nest boxes
  6. Send your survey report to Swift Conservation Ireland so it can be included in the website www.swiftconservation.ie
  7. Contribute to the BirdWatch Ireland online survey [4].

All of these steps and much more are found in the ‘We are Swifts – We are in Trouble’ booklet produced by Lynda Huxley who can be contacted at swiftconservationireland@gmail.com or on 094-9032422

 

References

[1] “Swift Conservation Ireland: Home.” http://www.swiftconservation.ie/. Accessed 29 Aug. 2018.

[2] “Why we should care about the vanishing of the swifts … – The Guardian.” 18 Jun. 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jun/18/swifts-tragic-decline-birds. Accessed 29 Aug. 2018.

[3] “Warning of ‘ecological Armageddon’ after dramatic plunge in insect ….” 18 Oct. 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/18/warning-of-ecological-armageddon-after-dramatic-plunge-in-insect-numbers. Accessed 29 Aug. 2018.

[4] “we are swifts – we are in trouble – GMIT.” https://www.gmit.ie/sites/default/files/public/mayo-campus/docs/swift-proof.pdf. Accessed 29 Aug. 2018.