Thursday, June 12, 2014

Hi all,
           Please see information on Swifts in Ireland and how we can help them, to continue visiting our towns and city`s and country side.

Common Swift (Apus Apus) Guidance
Habitat: Swift nests are generally located high up on the roof space under the eaves of old houses, historic and industrial buildings, where the swifts are able to drop into the air from the nest entrance. The nest is constructed from  material such as hay, paper, feathers and seeds collected in flight, and then cemented together with their saliva. Once swifts have identified and occupied a nest site, they will use it for the rest of their lives, if it stays available.
Legislation: Swifts and their nests are fully protected which makes it an offence to intentionally kill, injure or take any wild birds. It is also an offence to intentionally take, damage or destroy the eggs, young or nest of a swift whilst it is being built or in use.

 Identification: The swift is a medium-sized aerial bird which is dark brown in colour with a whitish patch on their throat; although in flight against the sky it can appear black. Swifts have long, scythe-like wings and a short, forked tail. The feet are specially adapted to grasp onto vertical surfaces, meaning that when the common swift roosts, it can occupy habitats like chimneys and building eaves, which other birds cannot. Swifts are summer visitors, breeding in Ireland between May and July, staying on average only 100 days, as they migrate back to South Africa for the winter.

Threats: The main threat to Swifts is the considerable loss of suitable nesting sites.

Renovations and building works:
Swifts are extremely vulnerable as they are very site specific. Nest sites can be destroyed via buildings being demolished, renovated, reroofed, or even being repaired. The use of PVC or plastic fascia’s and soffits are not viable for swift nests unless holes are cut to replicate the original nest sites before the PVC was fitted.

Blocking Access:
Blocking access to a nest not only prevents swifts from returning to the nest the following year but may trap swifts inside causing them to starve and possibly die. The loss of a nest to a swift is detrimental as swifts are very site faithful, therefore may spend another couple of summers trying to find a suitable nest.

Ø   Disturb a nest
Ø   Obstruct access to a nest
Ø   Undertake work that could damage
Ø   Nest
Ø   Stop work and advise your supervisor/manager if you suspect swifts/swift nests in your area of work
Ø   Inform relevant staff/contractors of the presence of any nests that need to be accommodated
Ø   Work with a specialist consultant on any mitigation work

Swift Signs
Swifts tend to be most active in good weather and can be seen in Ireland between May and the end of July. Aside from sightings, evidence of their presence in an area can be obtained by identification of their droppings. Generally below a swift nest along the wall of a building, small white streaks (bird droppings) are often visible, indicating the presence of swifts in the building.

Surveys can be carried out during the summer, generally from the beginning of May to the end of July. Ideal conditions to survey would be on a warm summer’s evening after 8pm. In order to identify a nesting site, a large concentration of swifts needs to be identified first. By following this colony, they should move into their nesting site where ‘screaming’ and swooping occurs. This is used by swifts as a defensive technique against other swifts and a way to bond with the colony.

Managing habitats and structures appropriately is a key element to swift conservation. Best practice is to leave nest sites undisturbed; however if rebuild or renovation is necessary, leave existing holes or make sure new identical access holes are made. When replacing or designing new buildings, the provision for swifts should be made, for example the insertion of external nest bricks could be incorporated or various built in or external nest boxes. Any of the useful web links noted below can be used as great resources for this.

• They eat, drink, preen, sleep and mate while flying
• Their scientific name is Apus apus, that means ‘no foot no foot’
• Actually, they have small feet with sharp claws which they only use at their nest site.
Swifts have been around a long time; one of their ancestors, who died 49 million years ago, was found in Germany.
They fly about 500 miles (800kms) a day. During their lives, they fly about 2 million miles - equivalent to more than four trips to the Moon and back! They eat flying insects like flies, mosquitoes, midges, and greenflies as well as airborne spiders.
• They come to Europe each summer arriving in this country at the end of April/ beginning of May
• They make their way back to Africa in August
• A round trip of 1400 miles!
• They are one of the very best fliers
• They have very rapid wing-beats: 8 wing-beats per second, followed by gliding and zooming about at very high speed, usually screaming as they go
• You will hear and see ‘screaming parties’ around the houses.
• At night they sleep as high as 3,000 metres
• They approach their nests at more than 40 miles per hour and come to a stop without slowing down
• They do not normally land on the ground because it is difficult for them to take off.

• Swifts usually stay with the same partners for their whole lives
• They can live for at least 21 years!
• Mostly, their nests are in spaces under roofs and nooks and crannies in old buildings.
• They catch bits of stuff from the air, like feathers, leaves, petals and pieces of paper, then stick them together to make a cosy nest for laying their eggs
• They lay white eggs, usually 2 or 3
• Both partners take it in turns to sit on the eggs to keep them warm until they hatch
• The eggs hatch after about 18 days.

• When the chicks hatch, they are blind and have no feathers
• Many times a day, the male and female bring the chicks balls of 300-500 insects, collected in a big pouch under the beak
• The chicks open their eyes about 6 days after hatching
• Their feathers grow and they get quite fat.
Chicks have an area of white around their beaks so the parents can see them in the dark nests.
• The chicks stop eating and lose weight before they leave the nest - you can’t fly if you are too fat!
• They do push-ups on their wings and tails to make them strong enough for flying
• Once they can hold a push-up for 10 seconds and they weigh about 45 grams, they are ready to fly away; they are 6-8 weeks old when they leave.

If you find a grounded Swift
Most grounded Swifts are likely to be fledglings that have fallen out of the nest before they are ready to fly, so they will need fostering. Occasionally an adult will meet with an accident and plummet to the ground, in which case it may need rehabilitating. If you find a grounded Swift, the priority is to make it safe by carefully picking it up and putting it in a box, then closing the lid to enable it to calm down. Swifts are difficult to care for, as they need a special diet. Swifts are not for beginners, so your next step should be to get in touch with someone who is a specialist in this field. If you pick up an adult and consider that it is ready to fly, the technique for releasing it safely is not to throw it into the air, but to hold it in the palms of your hands, raise your hands high and the bird should go. Make sure you are releasing it INTO the wind, and choose a place where, if it should come to ground again, you can easily find it.

You will find comprehensive advice on the following websites:

Useful Web Links
Swift Conservation, Bird Watch Ireland,, Northern Ireland Swift Group,, General Information,
The DSPCA or your nearest wildlife hospital may be another source of help.

• Swifts nest in old buildings
• Old buildings are being knocked down or repaired
• New buildings have no nooks and crannies for Swifts
• So when Swifts arrive back from Africa to raise a new family, they find their nesting places have gone - they are homeless!

Leave existing nest sites undisturbed
• When repairing buildings, make sure new access holes match exactly the location of the old ones
• When providing new nest sites make internal nest spaces, as they last longer
• If you can’t make internal spaces, put up nest boxes
• Tell Swift Conservation Ireland where you see Swifts nesting.

The simplest DIY Swift nest-box
 The whole thing is assembled from a single plank, and straight saw-cuts.

Buy a plank 180cm x 15cm x 15mm thick and cut it into pieces: (4 x 375mm, 2 x 120mm, 1 x 40mm).  You should have a small bit left over. Then saw out the entrance from 1 of the long pieces (2cuts 80mm & 45mm resulting in an entrance 65mm x 30mm).
The material can be weather-proof ply or pine. In either case, the wood should be treated externally with a
wood sealant or leave as a natural  wood  look which may not last as long.  Then assemble all of the pieces, except for the front, using nails, glue or screws. The front should be screwed on, without nails or glue, so that it can be removed for maintenance and for installation. Installation is by 2 screws through the back into the wall.

Position flush with soffit.
Under the eaves is an ideal place for Swifts
The canopy above the entrance is narrow with a sloping top. It provides some shelter (as well as 'decoration'), but it does not allow predators to perch on it.

This box should not be put anywhere where the rain or sun can fall upon it, so it is only appropriate under horizontal eaves, which are at least 200mm wide.

[Hint, when you make the entrance, aim on the small side, you can always take a file to the edges to make it a little larger. If you make it too large, Starlings will get in].
Entrance made with cuts of 80mm by 30mm



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