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May 2014

Saturday, 24 May 2014

RSPB Central London Local Group May Swift Update

RSPB Central London Local Group May Swift Update

Much more data is needed on the status of swifts in Britain. Counting swifts is not an easy task, but this year the RSPB's Centre for Conservation Science is starting a new study of swift colony sizes and the relationship between the number of flying swifts and local variation in nesting densities. We hope to have details fairly soon about how to do regular swift observation walks.

Meanwhile, the first thing is to listen to swifts in your area, watch them and above all get to know your local colony - if you are lucky enough to have one.

They have come 8,000 miles to share our houses and buildings with us for a short stay over the longest days of summer. Recent studies in Sweden have shown that they spend a fifth of the year in their breeding colonies, about a quarter of the year on migration and the rest of the year over their wintering grounds in southern Equatorial Africa. Recent studies have revealed a previously unknown fact about their migration: that this includes a stop-over in West Africa north of the Equator to take advantage of a burst of insect activity caused by the season's first drought-breaking rains there.

Swifts are faithful to their mates and to their exact nest sites. It is currently thought that they spend the majority of their lives apart and meet up only at the nest after their migration. Breeding birds arrive at their nesting sites earlier than the non-breeders, with the males arriving before the females.

Please keep listening, spotting and observing. Get your ears and eyes tuned into these wonderful aeronauts. And don't forget to report excited parties of roof-top calling swifts ('screaming parties') and known nesting sites on the RSPB's regular UK Swift Survey website, a link to which you will find at the end of this article.

Year-on-year records are vital to monitoring the stability or otherwise of the swift colonies that we still have. In addition, if you know where there are swifts nesting, keep alert for planning applications, building demolition, renovation or repair.

If you have any queries, concerns or emergencies, get in touch with the RSPB or Swift Conservation (, or contact us through 'Contact Us' on this website. You can also seek advice from your local council's Biodiversity Officer.

Do get in touch with us, too, if you simply want to comment on, or tell us about swift activity or swift stories in your area of London.

Enjoy your summer swift-watching!

Report sightings of screaming parties and swift nest sites on the RSPB's Swift Survey site at: