Swifts really are the birds of the moment. They’re now returned to many areas of the UK after a winter spent in Africa to scream and scythe their way through the sky. Many more are winging their way to us, so keep scanning the skies for that unmistakable sickle-winged shape, and listening out for those calls. If “your” birds aren’t back yet, don’t worry: swifts will continue to arrive throughout May.
There's no mistaking a swift - just remember all black plumage and "boomerang" shape (Mike Langman rspb-images.com)
Our Summer 2017 Nature’s Home magazine has the most beautiful close up swift on the cover (it’s my favourite cover ever) and a great feature all about the work going on in towns and cities around the UK to help them - building the swift cities! Not only that, we need you to tell us about your swifts this summer in the RSPB swift survey. This really is the month of the swift.
What a beauty - check out those big eyes and a bill that was made for insect-eating (Ben Andrew rspb-images.com)
I’ve picked out 10 of my favourite swift facts from the RSPB’s archives to keep the swift celebration going and to hopefully tickle your fancy with a few things about these amazing birds you may not know...
1.Swifts have an average life span of about five and a half years. One bird in Oxford was found dying in 1964, 16 years after it was ringed as an adult, so was likely to be at least 18 years old. This bird probably flew about four million miles in its lifetime, the same as flying to the moon and back eight times.2.Swifts have four toes, four arranged in twos, with each pair pointing sideways rather than forwards, a bit like a chameleon or a koala.3.They use saliva for building their nests in roof spaces and cavities.
4.The swift probably eats more species of small insect and spiders than any other UK bird – well over 300.
5.Swifts drink by gliding over smooth water and taking sips and bathe by flying slowly through falling rain.
Swifts very rarely land, but they have to for nesting of course (Ben Andrew rspb-images.com)
6. Their eyes have moveable bristles in front – sunglasses for reducing glare when they are on the wing.
7. Swifts can sleep on the wing – a French Airman in the 1914-18 war glided down with engines off behind enemy lines. At 10,000 feet he found himself amongst apparently motionless birds. One of them was caught in the machine and on the following day was found to be an adult male swift.
8.When they are about month old, baby swifts do ‘press ups’ in the nest to strengthen their wings. They lift themselves up by pushing down on their wings. By the time they’re ready to go, they can hold their bodies clear off the ground like this for several seconds.9.Each ball of food that the parents bring to their babies weighs just over a gram and contains 300-1,000 individual insects and spiders.
10.There are seven species of swift on the UK list. Our familiar swift is the only one that that breeds here, but there are six other rare visitors. The Alpine swift is a big swift with white underparts and throat, but the pallid swift is extremely similar to “our” swift. The little swift lives up to its name and has a white rump like a house martin. Then there are the really rare ones: Pacific swift, chimney swift from North America and the awesome, and incredibly fast, needle-tailed swift.Tell us about your swifts!
Once your local swifts have returned, We'd like you to let us know where you have seen them and where they're nesting. Watch out for screaming groups of swifts flying at roof-height (that means they're breeding nearby), or where you've seen swifts entering a roof or hole in a building, which means they are probably nesting.
We need sightings from anywhere across the UK and you can enter as many records as you like at different times. You can even submit sightings you remember from the past - the more records, the better!
Put some time in your diary this summer for searching for swifts - and tell us about them! (Ben Andrew rspb-images.com)
If you have sent in records before, it’s important to know if birds are still returning to the same areas. Please tell us what’s happening there this year. Your information will increase the RSPB's knowledge of swifts, so that more nest sites can be provided and protected for these beautiful birds during their short, but very important time spent in the UK.
Have a great swift summer!
The sun is shining, the shorts are on and the garden is in full bloom. It’s time for looking after the bees and the butterflies, the bugs and the beetles. You’ve done your bit to help your birds through winter by supplying them with nutritious, tasty treats and ticked off Big Garden Birdwatch, so it’s time to retire your feeders to the shed and tie up those seed sacks. Bird feeding - job done until the frosts come in late autumn, right?
Not exactly... You might be surprised to learn that it’s still important to feed your garden birds through spring, so here are the top five reasons why your birds will be thanking you for full feeders now spring is here.
1.Dressing to impressIf you’re a male bird out to impress, glossy, well-oiled and well-groomed feathers, gleaming bright “bare parts” (that’s legs, feet, eyes and beaks), a beautiful song and elaborate display will stand you in good stead when it comes to finding a mate. You also need to find a territory and then defend it against all comers, so you need to be fighting fit and have plenty of energy. With all that pressure to look and feel good, plenty of high-quality food to get into, and stay in, top condition, is a must.
It's not easy looking this good! Feeding birds, such as greenfinches, through spring means that they'll be in tip top condition for impressing a mate (Ben Hall rspb-images.com)
2.Building the ideal home
It’s not just about the boys though. Female birds also need to get into the best of health to help them lay fertile eggs - and plenty of them. The bigger the clutch, the greater chance of raising young to adulthood. And before all that, there is the not small task of nest building, which both birds of a pair may take part in, depending on the species. The female often has the final say when it comes to location and in the case of the wren, the male does all the building for several nests and is no doubt greatly relieved when a suitable home is finally given the thumbs up!
Making a nest requires a lot of effort and uses up energy, so keep your birdtable and feeders filled through spring (Andy Hay rspb-images.com)
3.Bringing up baby
Resident birds soon have their first brood hatched out once April arrives. Robins and blackbirds are among the first young of the year to appear and while the parents are so busy tending to their fast-growing young, it’s all too easy for them to forget about themselves. Healthy, well-fed parents means a greater chance of more chicks surviving because they have the energy to work round the clock on the young's needs.
Healthy, well fed parents, like this song thrush, means that they can concentrate their efforts on finding food for their young (Mike Richards rspb-images.com)
4.The UK weather!
Let’s face it, the UK summer is unpredictable enough and in spring, anything can happen. Overnight frosts, gales, cold winds, even sleet and snow are all still possible through April and you certainly can’t rely on double figure temperatures. All of this means that natural food in the form of insects can still be hard to find. The ground can be relatively hard too before it warms up or if it is especially dry, so earthworms and other mini-beasts are harder to find too. Periods of really wet weather can be really problematic though, with lower temperatures, and make finding flying insects very difficult.
5.The cupboard is bare
Remember those heady days of last autumn when the hedgerows were full of rosehips, hawthorn and blackthorn berries; the woods were full of beech and hazel nuts and the fields full of seeds spilling out onto the ground? By spring, this natural bounty is pretty much gone and the cupboard, in many cases, is now bare. A good seed mix in your garden will go a long way in filling that gap between seeds and berries being easily available and summer’s abundance of insects. Remember good hygiene though and have a look at the what to feed advice on the RSPB website.
You can help to make sure your garden is full of baby birds by keeping the adults well fed this spring (Ray Kennedy rspb-images.com)
There is lots more advice on feeding your garden birds at this time of year on the RSPB website.
Get a half price bag of RSPB Premium sunflower hearts!To give you, and your garden birds, a helping hand this spring we’re offering a half price 5.5kg bag of Premium sunflower hearts when you spend £35 from the RSPB shop.
In my blog post last week I promised you all mountains, forests and coastline. Well, I’ve got all that and more this week, as I’m going to be unearthing some older photos from my first time doing conservation work in Canada, too.
Forests, snow, mountains... Everything feels so big in the American Northwest. (Photo: Jack Plumb)
So I left you all in San Francisco. I’m sure you’re all quite happy to stay in the Bay area, but we’re moving on now. Don’t worry, Portland Oregon is equally great, and I think it’s jumped to my top spot for “most stunning coastline”. April is whale-watching season, and there were grey whales galore steaming along the coast apparently…
Grey whales have the longest known migration of any mammal - all the way from feeding grounds north of the Bering Strait to the west coast of Mexico and back again (over 10,000 miles). (Photo: Ars Electronica, Flickr creative commons)
It was my number 1 must do for the holiday, so we booked on a tour. Sadly, the sea was too rough, so we couldn’t head out. Devastatingly disappointed, I was determined to see the sea anyway so we got in the car and headed west. This shot speaks for itself in my opinion – it was pretty spectacular, even without the whales.
The Oregon coast, close to Cape Meares. (Photo: Jack Plumb)
You can’t really go to California or Oregon without spending some time in a forest. They’re epic. Tilamook National Forest was just that. The huge expanse of giant trees as far as you can see are pretty impressive, and walking amongst the towering Douglas firs gives a strong frontier feeling. Having been devastated by fire in the 30s in what become known as the 'Tilamook burn', the biggest reforestation effort of its kind restored the area and secured its designation as a State Forest.
That's a pretty serious trunk! (Photo: Jack Plumb)
Portland came and went far too quickly, and I’ll definitely be going back to Oregon at some point having just scratched the surface. Carrying on the theme of forests and mountains was the next destination: Canada. O Canada, you never dissapoint.
Trail rations, check. Waterproofs, check. Hound, check. Now to find those hot springs... (Photos: Jack Plumb)
Last time I was in Canada I was volunteering for the Nature Conservancy at Tatlayoko Lake Bird Observatory. It was the beginning of my career in conservation, and spurred me on to come back to England and volunteer with the RSPB in 2013/14 at Dungeness. Those two experiences eventually got me my job as Youth Editor.
Lots of fish bones and prints, but no grizzly bears unfortunately... or fortunately, depending on how you look at it. (Photo: Jack Plumb)
Any guesses for what species this is? I can still hear this bird's call ringing in my ears... (Photo: Jack Plumb)
I didn't take this photo as I'm actually holding this sharp-shinned hawk! I still have the scars from my attempt at removing it from the mist net. This hawk and the red-shafted flicker above were chasing each other around most days! (Photo: Jack Plumb)
This time around I was just on holiday, which is no less thrilling when on one day you’re skiing and the next you're hiking to some natural hot springs. Coincidently, the first bird I saw as I stepped off the bus was a Steller’s jay, the very same bird I saw on my last day back in 2013. The black and blue contrast coupled with the robust crest of this corvid surely contributed to it being designated as Canada’s national bird. Good choice, Canada.
Common as anything, but what a stunner! (Photo: Jacob McGinnis, Flickr creative commons)
That’s it! I won’t subject you to any more holiday blogging… well, until my next holiday.