Decline of swift nesting sites
Swifts migrate 6000 miles from sub-Saharan Africa to breed in Britain. It was only in 1994, when the Breeding Birds Survey was initiated, that their numbers began to be monitored, and so there are no accurate records of the numbers breeding in Britain before then. However, since 1994, monitoring has indicated an alarming 38% decline in swift numbers, which are now estimated at around 87,000 pairs. As a result, the species has been placed on the Birds of Conservation Concern’s Amber list, denoting a decline in numbers or a contraction of the species’ range. While several factors are likely to contribute to this sharp decline, lost of nesting sites is certainly one. Swifts, which are sociable, and prefer to nest in colonies, have evolved with humans to take advantage of our houses for their nesting sites. They like to nest high up in the roof space under the eaves of old houses and churches. However, modern building design and the refurbishment of old houses has resulted in the loss of nesting sites as access to roof spaces has been sealed off.
In Bristol, a recent survey by Bristol Swift Conservation Group has indicated just 5 small colonies of 2-3 pairs in the Redland area. Our house is one of those, with a small colony of 2 pairs. It is one of the highlights of our year to welcome “our” swifts back in early May, to be able to watch at very close quarters as they enter and leave their nests and to hear their calls (so-called ‘screaming parties’) as pairs within and outside the nest communicate with each other. The skies seem empty when the swifts depart at the end of July.
We can increase the number of known colonies in Redland, by retrofitting swift nesting boxes under the eaves of our houses. Swift boxes can be purchased, or alternatively, you can make your own.
Would you like to make a swift nesting box for your house?
Mark Glanville of Bristol Swifts and Matt Collis of Avon Wildlife Trust (AWT), both members of the Bristol Swift Conservation Group, recently teamed up and in November held the first of what is hoped to be a series of swift nesting box workshops. Eight participants working in pairs, including my husband and me, made a nest box each, using materials and tools provided by Mark and Matt. The design of the box has been worked on and incrementally improved over many years by Mark, who, with his wife Jane, has what must be Bristol’s largest colony under the eaves of their house in Stoke Bishop. In 2017, they had 14 pairs, which fledged a record number of 20 chicks.
Redland Green Community Group would like to collaborate with Bristol Swift Conservation Group and hold a workshop for residents of Redland and surrounding suburbs. The workshop would be held on a weekend day before spring, probably at the AWT’s Bennett’s Patch and White’s Paddock reserve on the Bristol Portway.
The cost of the workshop is currently £15 per participant, to cover the cost of materials. Mark and Matt donate their time. Between 6 and 10 people, working in pairs, is an ideal number per workshop. The AWT currently has funding to assist in putting the boxes up.
If you would like to take part in a workshop, please send an email to Julie Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest, letting me know how many people might take part. Workshops are suitable for anyone aged 16 or over. We will then arrange a date (or dates) for the next workshop(s).
Redland Green Community Group