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Save Our Suffolk SWIFTS

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SOSSwifts FB Logo.jpg

What are Swifts?


Distinct from both swallows and house martins, these summer visitors – here for just four
months from May to August – thrill us with low-level acrobatics and gyroscopic flights as
they scream around the skies, prospecting for potential nest sites. They feed, sleep and
even mate on the wing, landing only to fashion a minimal nest cup and breed. With a
wingspan of 42cm but weighing no more than a Cadbury’s Crème Egg, a newly-fledged Swift
will depart for Africa, shuttling over and back to the UK for two to three years, before finally
landing to breed. Swifts usually produce a brood of two or three chicks each year and – if
they survive their first year – they can live to almost 20 years. It is a remarkable lifestyle.
Research has shown that breeding adults are extremely faithful to their nest sites. Juveniles
are believed to follow the adult birds back to where they fledged, identifying their own site
prior to nesting. New colonies can be established by installing nest boxes and specially
designed ‘Swift bricks’, and playing calls to attract interest. The birds are curious and will
investigate possible sites, whilst screaming around in tight flocks at low level.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why do Swifts need our help?


Historically, Swifts nested in crevices in cliffs and trees, but since Roman times they have
also taken advantage of the built environment, finding nest sites under the eaves and tiles
of houses and church towers. In Suffolk, as elsewhere in the UK, Swifts have taken to
nesting communally in towns and villages.
However, modern building techniques do not favour Swifts. The requirement to achieve
efficient, air-tight buildings with minimal heat loss and sound transmission reduces the
nesting opportunities for wildlife. Meanwhile, renovation and conversion of older buildings
results in loss of existing nest sites. Nesting locations are not legally protected outside the
breeding season and can therefore be lost whilst the Swifts are away. Figures show that the
Swift population in SE England more than halved between 1994 and 2019, resulting in their
‘Endangered’ status as a British breeding bird: Swifts are Red-listed and need our help.

 

Who is helping Swifts locally here in Suffolk?


Save Our Suffolk Swifts, a joint campaign between Suffolk Bird Group and Suffolk Wildlife
Trust, was established in 2014 with the aim of reversing the downward trend in Swift
numbers. Organising talks, walks and events throughout the county, SOSSwifts encourages
the establishment of local Swift groups and offers ongoing support. Support includes
surveys of suitable nest sites and recommendation of appropriate call systems, as well as
education and advice about Swift protection, in order to expand existing colonies and create
new ones. We can provide articles, photographs, neighbourhood leaflets and a cartoon for
you to adapt to where you are. Local free newspapers and newsletters will readily publish
articles and local Facebook wildlife pages can be very useful to help raise awareness.

 

What can you do?


Ahead of the birds’ May arrival, put up Swift nest boxes and log their location. Play Swift
calls to advertise the site as the birds arrive in May and continue to log sightings of the
distinctive, entertaining ‘screaming parties’ of birds. Contact SOSSwifts to find out if there is
a local group, or start one in your area. Local groups have had remarkable successes with
installing boxes on houses, church towers, swimming pools, cinemas, libraries and schools.
If you have contacts within a public building that might be interested in supporting Swifts,
please put them in touch with us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nest Boxes


Swift nest boxes need to be installed at or above first floor window height where there is a
clear line of flight for Swifts to access. Avoid elevations concealed by trees or locations
above low-level roofs. If you are going to the effort, it is best to fit multiple nest boxes as
Swifts are communal breeders. SOSSwifts keep a stock of white lidded nest boxes suitable
for any aspect, we are very happy to deliver.

 

Swift calls


Playing Swifts’ calls helps the younger non-breeding birds prospecting for a future nesting
sites find your nest boxes. The simplest method is to download calls onto your computer
then create a looped playlist to play via a Bluetooth speaker placed on the closest outside
windowsill to your nest boxes.

 

Swift Community Sets


Through fund raising we are able to offer free Swift Community Sets comprising of a number
of nest boxes and a call system for suitable prominent elevations of public buildings. The
recipient must be willing to fit the nest boxes and keen to play the Swift calls from May to
August, this is very important. Schools, shops, pubs and libraries are great for this and over
30 have been distributed already, such as at Felixstowe Library (below).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Churches

 

If access is available to behind the belfry louvres nest cabinets can be built there. These can be very
successful. SOSSwifts are happy to carry out a survey at any church, provide designs and plans for layouts that

work and donate a call system to those taking on a project.

Mitigation

 

SOSSwifts are very happy to help protect Swift colonies threatened by renovation works. We are happy to

engage with owners and builders to offer sensible advice on maintaining accesses to their  nest sites and can

donate nest boxes to help mitigate if this isn’t possible. A photo of Peasenhall Village Hall is below where the

Trustees requested advice. Their builders were able to complete the works outside the Swifts’ breeding

season, keep the Swifts nests sites open for next year and build nest boxes for the colony to expand into.

 

Wider Conservation- space for nature


Helping Swifts helps other rapidly declining species too. House Sparrows will readily use
Swift nest boxes before and after Swifts.
Starlings breed earlier than Swifts and tend to single brood. They can be helped by widening
the height of the nest hole to one of your nest boxes to let them in too. Both Blue and Great
Tits, moths, butterflies and bats will also use these nest boxes as well.

 

Where and why should you log your records?

There are currently two places to log sightings. The Suffolk Swift Survey website, hosted by
Suffolk Biodiversity Information Service (suffolkbis.org.uk/swifts) plays a vital role because it
can influence local planning decisions. Suffolk County Council has classified swifts as a
Suffolk Priority Species in their Biodiversity Action Plan. If a Swift population is already
identified in an area set for development, District and Borough Planning Officers are able to
set a planning condition to include universal nest bricks (specially designed brick inserts for
new-build houses that mimic the nooks and crannies favoured by Swifts) in the
requirements for the new development and oblige architects and developers to include
them in their designs. The SwiftMapper app, available for smartphones, is quick and easy to
use and the data are transferred across to SBIS regularly.

 

How can you get in touch?


Swifts@SuffolkBirdGroup.org
We are here to help you help swifts.
X = @SoSSwifts

facebook.com/SoSSwifts/

Donate to help save Suffolk Swifts

 

If you wish to donate to help SOS Swifts help provide Community Sets and help for Swifts then you can do so by following the below link to donate to Suffolk Wildlife Trust and select that you would like you donation to go towards Swift Conservation.

 

  

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