Trip reports

Keeping Our Skies Alive: Will Swifts Survive the 21st Century? with Edward Mayer

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Swifts, like many of our migrant birds are declining. There are various reasons for this but chief amongst them is the inadequate protection accorded to their city nest sites. As older buildings are demolished or renovated historic nest sites are removed and colonies wiped out. Our March speaker, Edward Mayer 's consultancy, Swift-Conservation works to reverse the decline by advising, lobbying, and encouraging the preservation of existing nests and the creation of new ones. Their clients are often architects, developers and public bodies working on city building projects. In addition the consultancy carries out research into swift behaviour. The first part of his talk described the problems facing shifts which painted a fairly depressing picture of casual nest destruction in the name of development progress. He then told us about the responses to this challenge. It was quite inspirational to hear about the imaginative ways being used to preserve and create new nesting colonies in Tesco car parks, Italian brick towers, the Olympic stadium, hospitals and many other unlikely and often unprepossessing places. The swifts seemed happy with them all.

The second half of the talk showed the development of a young swift from egg to fledgling in preparation for its journey to Africa, in some splendid photos during which we learned some fascinating facts. Swifts can only thrive on a purely insect diet so their consumption of biting insects makes them valuable neighbours. They won't eat stinging insects but will take drones. They feed their young with an insect ball made up of dozens of flying insects caught on the wing. They may not land for up to three years after their first flight and sleep on the wing. And rather oddly the young exercise their wings by doing press ups! Our birds migrate to the Congo region in central Africa as GPS tags have shown.

Edward is clearly passionate about his subject and by the end of an entertaining and instructive talk we were all equally keen to do our bit to help these fantastic birds to prosper.

Ken Sutton