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The Return of the Swifts - Heralds of Summer

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Posted: Thursday 1st June 2017 by WildBlog

By Matt Collis, My Wild City Officer

Spotting my first swift of the year is always a slightly torturous affair. I love swifts and having spent the winter without them, by spring I become slightly obsessive and anxious about their return.

It’s not like they’re hard to recognise; a completely dark bird a bit larger than a swallow, long sickle-shaped wings and a lung bursting scream-like call as they whizz over houses! I also have a good idea when to start looking too. As with almost all our long distance migrating birds, swifts arrive in the UK at approimxately the same time each year; end of April-early May.

For the last five years I’ve always seen at least one by the last week of April but this year, I was forced to wait until the 3rd May to finally catch a glimpse. Walking through Narroways Nature Reserve, St.Werburghs, I spotted a lone bird flying low over my head catching insects. My excitement was euphoric, so much so I couldn’t help letting out a small squeal of delight as it stooped, circled and twisted its way through a still blue sky.

I’ve become so attached to swifts that their arrival is an annual part of my life, with feelings of joy similar to those when something precious, long lost, is gratefully returned. It’s this close bond which makes the build up such a torturous period where I often ask myself ‘What if they don’t return this year?’
You may find my concern over the top but with a decline of 40% since 1995 the British swift population is firmly on the list of Birds of Conservation Concern and in need of our help. One cause for the decline is the reduction of places to nest.

Having flown 6000 miles from southern Africa to the UK, they’ve come here exclusively to breed. Completely reliant on houses, swifts find gaps under the loose tiles or eaves of houses in order to build nests and raise young. Unfortunately, modern housing lacks these features and repairs or reroofing works often block holes within older buildings, reducing the total number of nest sites available.

Luckily we can do something about this and you can help! A brilliant website exists containing fascinating information on swifts in Bristol, showing you how to find and record nest sites near you, and even how build and put up specialist boxes to provide new sites! To learn more visit Bristol Swifts.

Spotting swifts and finding out more about these beautiful birds could be one things you do in June as part of our #30DaysWild challenge - a month-long chance to connect with nature and have fun. To sign up and find out more click here.

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