30 Days Wild - Day Fifteen - Listen for swifts

Stefan Johansson

Keep your eyes on the sky for these amazing, screeching, birds...

For me, the return of swifts in summer is one of the highlights of the year. They're so evocative of evenings sitting outside, when you can listen to them screeching overhead, tumbling over each other in the sky.

Swifts are often confused with hirundines – the group that contains swallows and house martins – and it’s easy to see why as they do look and behave similarly. But they are not closely related at all, and in fact the closest relative of swifts are hummingbirds! You can tell swifts apart from swallows and house martins by their sickle-shaped wings and their screeching call. Swallows have long tail feathers and a white underside, and house martins have a noticeable white patch on their rump. Swift behaviour is fascinating, they only stop flying to breed, and they sleep, eat and mate on the wing.

At Trumpington Meadows nature reserve, we put our 10 hole triangular colony box up in May, and started playing recorded swift calls from dawn to dusk to encourage the birds in (a sound I now hear in my sleep!). We were delighted when a group started investigating. They swoop low and fast past the office before trying their luck at landing on the box face – sometimes they don't quite stick the landing and have to circle back around. Are they nesting? We hope so but we’re not sure. Continued observations will hopefully confirm one way or the other, but if they don't nest this year, the chances are good they will next year.

Our nest box was built, donated and installed by Action for Swifts, and on the 19th June Dick Newell from the group is coming to the reserve for our "Something in the Air" event.

Next week is also the UK's first ever Swift Awareness Week. We're the first country in the world to be recognising these amazing birds in this way and raising awareness of their 50% decline in the last 20 years. And there are definitely things that we can all do to help them - providing nest boxes is a fantastic way, and needn't be difficult or expensive.

Report your sightings!

If you live in Bedforshire, we're also asking for people to report their sightings of these birds and where they're investigating or using buildings. Please email bedfordshire@wildlifebcn.org with any sightings.


Day 15 icon for 30 Days Wild

Ways to go wild...

Listen for swifts. They have a distinctive scream or screech which is very evocative of summer. You may well have heard them without realising that's what they were. On summer evenings they often gather in groups and scream together, high up in the sky or swooping around their nest sites on buildings.

Events during June for 30 Days Wild...

We've got loads going on all through June to help you go wild in our three counties. Visit our calendar for a full list of events.