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How the swift spends its three months in the UK

PUBLISHED: 00:00 24 July 2019

Swifts in flight

Swifts in flight

dwt

These lovely birds have had even more problems to face in 2019, as Nick Brown of the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust explains

Swifts are magical and fascinating birds with so much joy to offer us as they swirl around above our roofs on balmy summer evenings. Their lives are strange indeed. In truth, they are African birds that we 'borrow' for just three summer months when they fly north to breed here.

The rest of the year they spend flying endlessly over central Africa - never landing, just continuously flying. They can sleep on the wing (by shutting down half their brain at a time), feed and drink on the wing… and they can even mate on the wing. In fact, they only land when they have to lay their eggs.

Historically they used holes in trees and cliffs but now, 99 per cent nest in our buildings, often unnoticed by property owners since they leave no external indication of their presence.

They get inside through tiny holes where mortar has fallen out, usually under our eaves but sometimes under tiles. Arriving in May they are usually gone by the end of July.

This year they experienced exceptionally bad weather as they flew north over southern Europe. As a result numbers returning to UK colonies have been reduced, in some cases by 25 per cent. Then, once here, the endless June rains can only have hampered them as they incubated their eggs and tried to feed their small chicks.

These problems come on top of those this species already faces; reduced numbers of insects to feed on and especially the blocking up of the holes they use to access their nests when older properties are renovated or re-roofed.

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