Swifts – Summer visitors and aerial acrobats

Swifts – Summer visitors and aerial acrobats


In today’s blog, we are talking about a bird who travels an immeasurable distance each year to return to the UK to breed. It is of course, Swifts!

How to identify Swifts:

Identifying Swifts can be a bit tricky. This is because they share a lot of similar features with a group of birds called Hirundines, that include House Martins, Swallows and Sand Martins.

The silhouette of a Swift against the clear summer sky is unmistakable though, once you know what you’re looking for. A dark brown plumage which looks black when they’re in flight above you, look out for a crescent shaped wingspan and a short forked tail. Often, you will hear Swifts before you spot them. Keep your ears primed and ready to hear the iconic screeching as they tumble through the air.

The BTO have a brilliant resource for learning to tell the difference between your Swifts and your Hirundines. https://www.bto.org/develop-your-skills/bird-identification/videos/bto-bird-id-hirundines-and-swift

Migration & Flight

Swifts are a long distance migrant species. They travel around 5000km each year from West Africa, arriving in the UK in early May and staying until late August when they make the huge trip back across two continents. Swifts spend their lives predominantly on the wing, landing only occasionally on high vertical surfaces and of course, to nest. They are aerial feeders and spend their days swooping above us hunting for insects. They can fly tens of miles every day to find food, travelling far from the nesting site. Incredibly, they will also mate and even sleep whilst in flight, ‘switching off’ half of their brain at a time in order to get the rest needed to maintain this airborne life.


Swifts used to nest mainly in cliffs, hollow trees and nests made by other birds, but a lot of these sites have been replaced by buildings as we encroach upon the natural world. Like other species though, Swifts have adapted to this changing environment, nesting in the eaves and wall cavities of modern houses.

Population & Decline

The sound of Swifts screaming around the houses in the late evening is a wonderful harbinger of long summer days, but it is a rare phenomenon today. Numbers have plummeted recently with a 53% decline between 1995 and 2016. Several factors have caused this crash, including habitat destruction and the use of pesticides which affects their food supplies. Modern houses often lack the nooks and crannies that the Swifts need to nest in so not only are we destroying their habitat, but we are not giving them the spaces they need in which to raise successful broods.

How can you help?

Author of ‘Fledgling’, Hannah Bourne-Taylor, recently launched a campaign called, ‘The Feather Speech’. This national conservation campaign focuses on four species of red listed, cavity nesting birds, including Swifts, and aims to change how houses are built, making Swift bricks compulsory in all new builds. You can take action and sign the petition here: https://hannahbournetaylor.com/the-feather-speech-campaign-for-swifts/

You can also help by talking to your local community about Swifts and their nesting sites and encouraging others to protect any cavity nests in the area. Why not form a Swift nest box group and install Swift boxes in your neighbourhood, providing a ready made safe haven for these incredible birds.

Check out The Wildlife Community online store where you will find a Swift box that has been carefully designed by our ambassador, Dan Rouse. https://thewildlifecommunity.co.uk/collections/dan-rouse/products/dan-rouse-designed-swift-nest-box

Join The Wildlife Community today as a member and benefit from 10% off all purchases!

Make your space a wild one.

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.