New homes for swifts in Little Paxton

Sophie Baker

Now's a great time to put up nestboxes before our swifts return in April/May. Sophie has been inspired by National Nestbox Week and done just that - and it really is pretty straightforward!

At this time of year, I miss swifts. Sometimes, during winter, a starling will make a sound that is on the edge of an impersonation of their careering screams, and I do a double take - and then miss them all the more. They've been on my mind recently, too, with work going on at the Wildlife Trust to help protect them and their nesting sites, and a feature in the winter issue of Local Wildlife asking people to do their bit.

Last summer I loved hearing them fly past my house on their way to and from Paxton Pits, and I'm pretty sure I saw a pair nesting in an old house just down the road from me. I also happen to live on the end of a row of houses with a clear flyway to the north-facing gable end of my house... and all of these factors make it an obvious place to install a box or two for them to nest in. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more remiss it seemed that there weren't swift bricks and boxes installed already all around my estate. I'll be writing to my Parish Council to suggest that they should encourage other residents to do so.

National Nest Box Week

This week is National Nest Box week, and at the weekend I finally put all of these things together into taking action myself. With the weather being as kind as it ever could be in February, my two Model 30 boxes (thanks Dick Newell, John Stimpson and Action for Swifts) ready to go, a loan of tall enough ladders from the Friends of Paxton Pits Nature Reserve and  some intrepid helpers willing to share the ladder climbing - we got to work.

Despite some initial fears about the height and difficulty, it all went pretty smoothly. Four holes were drilled, two boxes installed (one a little wonky but never mind) and just like that we're all ready for some residents come May. 

 

The nest boxes fully installed on the house

Swift boxes installed on a north-facing gable end with a clear flyway in front. Image: Sophie Baker.

Calling the swifts

Swifts land only to breed. Everything else, for the whole rest of their lives, they do on the wing, flying an average of 500 miles a day. Once they fledge the nest it can be three full years before they land to breed. So it's no surprise to me to find out that they are not experts at landing and finding places to nest. Their technique, from what we can tell, is generally that they hear where other birds are nesting and fling themselves at a likely looking wall or cliff and cling on as best they can, hoping to find a nook or cranny to make their own. So leaving them to their own devices, especially if there aren't swifts already nesting nearby, can mean years before they find a nestbox. They live for up to twenty years, though, so once they do, you've got a neighbour for decades.

After reading up about it at Swift Conservation, I'm going to advertise the new boxes by playing a CD of their calls out of the upstairs window to tempt them to have a look. And I'm ready to be patient (but I really hope they find them!)

Building a nature recovery network - we can all help!

The population of these birds is disappearing by 4% every year - over 50% have gone in twenty years -  and that's on our watch. Having now gone through the process, I would urge anyone to install some where they can. We can all do our part to help increase the habitats available for swifts around all three counties. Only with our collective help, alongside the work of the Wildlife Trust and other conservation organisations, can we build a connected network of nesting sites and habitats for their insect food to help these wonderful birds recover in numbers.

There is a huge menu of boxes to choose from, and I was a bit confused at first - it seems like swift boxes come in many more shapes and sizes than for other species. But there is a lot of guidance out there, too, and dedicated people who are happy to help talk you through it. The Model 30 boxes I settled on seemed to fit with my house, and though my wall is north facing, they are also designed to be effective on a south-facing wall. They also came pre-assembled... though there is a flatpack option if you need them to be posted to you.

Fingers crossed for some 2019 residents - and I'll be recording my sightings with the Wildlife Trust this year, too, so we can build a map of our resident swifts. I hope you'll consider doing so, too.

More advice

You can find loads of advice on the Action for Swifts and Swift Conservation web pages - and they may also be able to put you in touch with people who can help with installation, too. 

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"Detailed Swift" by Kentish Plumber is licensed under CC BY ND 2.0