Swift in flight by Hampshire Swifts

To many, the sight and sound of flying Swifts as they race around the rooftops in screaming parties on warm summer days is one of the most captivating wildlife spectacles. With their long crescent-shaped wings and short forked tails, they are masters of the air. Indeed, they spend virtually all of their lives on the wing, only coming to land when rearing their young.

Swifts overwinter in central and south-east Africa but return to the UK in early May to breed. They make their nests high in cavities in roofs and walls of buildings, including people’s homes. After rearing their young, they leave again for Africa in late July or early August.

Sadly, though, these charismatic birds are in trouble as they have declined across the UK by more than 50% since the year 2000. One of the main causes of their decline is the loss of nest sites as older buildings are renovated and plastic fascias and soffits fitted, blocking the Swifts’ access to their nesting spaces.

Changes in construction techniques mean that modern buildings rarely have suitable holes for nesting. However, there is a way that we can provide Swifts with alternative nest sites – by installing specially designed nestboxes on our homes and public buildings.

Since 2022, thanks to funding from Isle of Wight National Landscape, iWatchWildlife in collaboration with Wight Swifts (@Wight Swifts on Facebook), has been assisting residents interested in helping Swifts to have nestboxes installed on their properties.

The project is very grateful to members of the group Hampshire Swifts for making the boxes and visiting the Island to install them. In the first year of the scheme, 13 boxes were installed but this jumped to over 60 in 2023. This is great news, but more are needed to help the Island’s Swift population.

Ideally, properties should be at least two storeys high as the boxes need to be sited 5 metres or more off the ground. Besides homeowners, we would love to hear from those involved with the running of churches, schools, town and village halls and other public and community buildings that might be happy to provide nestbox homes for Swifts.

Unlike some species, Swifts do not leave any mess beneath the boxes and the nestboxes do not need to be cleaned out at the end of the year. If you would be interested in having a box fitted, please e-mail iwswifts@gmail.com for more information.

In 2024, a single box plus installation costs £45 and a double box £85. This year’s nestboxes are due to be installed in April.

Swift Action is Needed!

By Caroline Dudley, IW Swift Box Scheme Co-ordinator