Swiftly Does It

Swiftly Does It

Swift Awareness Week takes place this coming week (23rd - 29th June) with six events in the county. Nick Brown, who runs the Derbyshire Swift Project, explains why this bird is in trouble and tells how a multi-occupation swift box has been installed on the Trust’s head quarters.

Swifts are magical and fascinating birds with so much joy to offer us as they swirl around above our roofs on balmy summer evenings.

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust swift box

A swift box with 19 nest boxes incorporated is attached to the Trust’s headquarters in Middleton.

Their lives are strange indeed. In truth they are African birds that we ‘borrow’ for just three summer months when they fly north to breed with us.

The rest of the year they spend flying endlessly over central Africa never landing, just continuously flying. They can sleep on the wing (by shutting down half their brain at a time), feed and drink on the wing…and they can even mate on the wing. In fact, they only land when they have to lay their eggs. Historically they used holes in trees and cliffs but now, 99% nest in our buildings, often unnoticed by property owners since they leave no external indication of their presence. They get inside through tiny holes where mortar has fallen out, usually under our eaves but sometimes under tiles. Arriving in May they are usually gone by the end of July.

This year they experienced exceptionally bad weather as they flew north over southern Europe. As a result numbers returning to UK colonies have been reduced, in some cases by 25%. Then, once here, the endless June rains can only have hampered them as they incubated their eggs and tried to feed their small chicks.

These problems come on top of those this species already faces; reduced numbers of insects to feed on and especially the blocking up of the holes they use to access their nests when older properties are renovated or re-roofed. So, to raise the profile of the bird that has declined by over 50% in the last 20 years, Swift Awareness Week (June 22-30th) will provide opportunities to learn more (and hopefully see) this beleaguered bird.

There is a talk at Carsington on Monday 24th, evening swifts walks in Chaddesden, Melbourne, Youlgrave and Spondon and an evening watching swifts from the back garden of a house in Chesterfield where they nest in numbers, with coffee and cakes laid on. All events are free! Full details are on the events listing: https://www.derbyshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/events .

These have been organised by the Derbyshire Swift Conservation Project as part of the national Swift Awareness Week in which 90 local events are taking place right across the UK. Again, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust is leading the way in showing how putting up swift nest boxes is a sure fire way to help them by installing a splendid new multi-box swift house on its headquarters!


Swifts screaming low over rooftops on a summer evening.