Book Review by Nick Brown, Wildlife Officer - Derbyshire Wildlife Trust

Swifts by David Naylor

Swifts in a Tower by David Lack. Updated edition by Unicorn Press 2018.

David Lack first published this book way back in 1956 but it has been out of print for many years.
This new book contains David’s original text unaltered but his son, Andrew Lack, has written a detailed update on the current state of our knowledge of this iconic bird and this forms the last chapter of this much needed new edition.

Swifts in a Tower by David Lack

Swifts in a Tower by David Lack

Lack’s original book was the result of many years of research on the swifts nesting in the tower of the Natural History Museum in Oxford. It makes fascinating reading being one of the all-time great pieces of research on a single species carried out over many years.

Swifts have declined by over 50% in the last twenty years so the book is timely and coincides with a huge upsurge in interest in the species with many local attempts to help it.

Right now the swifts that nest in Derbyshire are flying about over the Congo. Remarkably they never land anywhere until they return to their nests next May. They feed on the wing (on tiny insects and spiders), drink on the wing, sleep on the wing and even mate on the wing making them the most aerial of all our birds.

The swift’s problem is that it has come to depend entirely on our buildings for breeding. It finds tiny holes under the eaves of buildings, squeezes inside and lays its eggs on the nearest flat surface. Where there are pantiles, some pairs nest directly under the tiles where their curvature allows entry.

As older buildings are renovated, re-roofed or knocked down, so the swifts lose their nest sites. Tragically this loss of nest site happens while the birds are in the middle of nesting. To watch the birds bumping up against scaffolding desperately trying to get to their chicks is heart breaking.

A further problem for swifts is that all new buildings are hermetically sealed and neither swifts nor indeed any other bird can nest in them.

Fortunately there are simple solutions. With existing buildings, cheap external nest boxes can be fitted under the eaves. With new buildings there are all sorts of nest box designs which can be fitted into the walls while construction is underway.

Across the UK there are now 70 local swift groups putting up boxes and urging planners and developers to do likewise.

Locally, the Derbyshire Swift Conservation Project encourages everyone to put boxes on their houses. To find out more contact swifts@derbyshirewt.co.uk and also have a look at www.swift-conservation.org

David Lack’s lovely book, complete with a new set of photographs, would serve you well as a very readable introduction to this fascinating but beleaguered bird.