Spot swifts from May to July
Swifts are flying back from Africa to breed in traditional nest sites, usually in the eaves of taller buildings in our villages, towns and cities. One of the last summer migrants to arrive (usually in May) they are among the first to leave (July) so time is short to appreciate these spectacular and mysterious birds.
How to spot swifts
Swifts look superficially like a swallow but are bigger and look black in most lights. They are superb flyers that are almost completely adapted to an aerial life, feeding, sleeping and even mating on the wing. They only need to land to lay eggs and raise their young. Once fledged the young birds are believed to remain completely airborne for up to two years. Their Latin name Apus Apus, is derived from Greek and means 'without legs'.
What time is best to spot a swift?
Look for them in the evenings when they will gather in flocks and fly low screaming around the eaves and roofs of houses or hawking for insects over fields and rivers, flying with highest confirmed speed of any bird in level flight at 69.3mph.
Lots of folklore surrounds these mystical birds. Known as 'The Devils Bird' it was thought for hundreds of years that they hibernated in mud until the facts of migration were established – although no less amazing are their extraordinary journeys down to Central Africa and back covering distances of over 3000 miles in just five days.
Like a lot of species in the UK swifts, have declined markedly in recent years and it is now on the amber list of concern as its numbers have declined by more than 25% in the last 25 years. One big reason for the decline is thought to be the lack of breeding spaces in the eaves of buildings due to increased energy efficiency regulations. This is something which can be overcome with the use of nest boxes or the incorporation of purpose built spaces in new buildings.