I won’t pretend to know a lot about birds, I’m a novice birder. But on the last walk I enjoyed in the New Forest, swifts were abundant. I wasn’t surprised to see them, I know there has been a lot of conservation action, great efforts have been made to protect them and monitor them. But on my evening walk in the suburb of Southbourne, they were circling the sky, high above me by the dozen.
Swifts (hirundo rustica) have a similar shape to swallows but they’re dark brown all over, appearing almost black against the dull grey sky this evening. They do have a little light patch on their throat but I couldn’t spot it easily from the ground. They fly incredibly fast and spend their entire lives in the air, sleeping, mating and even drinking ‘on the wing’.
Despite the similarity between swifts, swallows and house martins, the swift is a member of the apodidae group of birds which comes from the Greek ‘without feet’ referring to their very short legs and they never rest. They are more closely related to the humming bird than they are to martins or even swallows.
These birds fly back from Africa every year and roost in the same place, small slits and pockets under tiles on rooftops and under the eaves of houses. Unfortunately the way we build has changed and consequently their numbers have been in decline for some years. Seeing them flourish in suburbia is such a boost. They have a faint screech that defines them and generally make a lot of noise near their roosting spot. The collective nouns for a group of swifts include; a screaming frenzy, a box, a drift or a swoop.
The RSPB have a ‘swift mapper’ where you can add your siting and help protect these beautiful birds in the future. There are many forms of swift house available from brick construction to include in our building to a wide wooden oblong that fits snuggly under a gutter or fascia. Check out their website to see if you can do anything to help these avian beauties in your area https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/conservation-and-sustainability/safeguarding-species/swiftmapper/