Last year on The Hub, I reported how the colony of swifts that descend on my neighbourhood every year had turned up almost a month early, and I wondered whether this was a one-off, or a sign of the impact of climate change on this amazing visitor.
I’m lucky enough to have a flock or ‘scream’ of swifts that visit my part of Maidenhead for about 3 months every year and I can’t get enough of their aerial antics as they zoom up and down the street screaming noisily and chasing their dinner.
In past years, I would have said that they arrive around the middle of May and stay until the middle of August but last year they were here by the 14th of April which was almost a month earlier than expected.
Quite a journey
My feathered friends come a long way to entertain me each year as, according to the RSPB, they migrate through France and Spain after spending winter south of the Sahara, in Africa, where they follow the rains to take advantage of rapid changes in insect populations.
So I thought the least I could do was provide them with somewhere to rest when they got here and bought a twin-bed home cost £40 complete with fitting.
Actually though, swifts almost never land and even sleep on the wing, with half their brain snoozing whilst the other half keeps them flying! They also catch raindrops in the air to drink or have been known to fly low over water, skimming a mouthful from the surface.
My street in Maidenhead is where they return to nest, so providing a useful space for them is very important in keeping numbers up and ensuring they will return each year.
Like much of nature, modern human life is challenging the natural habit for many species, especially as older homes get renovated and made more air tight, with less gaps in roofs and rafters to nest in.
If I and others want to continue enjoying this seasonal visitor, then the least we can all do is provide somewhere safe for them to breed.
My swift hotel has been empty since Bob from the Maidenhead, Marlow and Cookham Swift Group turned up to fit it, so I just need to advertise the fact that there is a new place in town and that’s exactly what I’m planning to do from this coming weekend, just in case they’re early again this year.
According to Bob, who fitted my swift house, I now need to broadcast swift noises out of the bedroom window near the box, so that they know it is there and a couple of them will hopefully dive in and use it. Once they’ve found it, they are highly likely to return to the same spot every year.
The potential added bonus is that the back of the box has a gap which could act as a home for bats so, once the swifts have gone back to Africa, any bats that arrive will mean I can extend the period where I can sit in my back garden and watch wildlife swoopping around the skies.
For now though, I’m looking forward to seeing the wonderful high-speed experts that are swifts. These small but amazing birds are amongst the fastest on the planet, achieving speeds of 70mph+ as they dart around the sky chasing insects and air ‘plankton’.
Whether or not my ‘swift hotel’ gets any takers, I can’t wait to see them once again bombing up and down my street and providing me and the entire neighbourhood with an incredible aeronautical display.
I’ll let you know if they get here early or late and you can decide if that indicates any changes in the climate!
Russell Jones is Content and Communications Manager for Mitsubishi Electric, Living Environment Systems in the UK.