Five ways to help Swifts

, 18 June 2023
Five ways to help Swifts
Swift © Barry Griffin

Audrey and Nick Jarvis of Lewes Swift Supporters

Why do Swifts need our help?

Common Swifts have been returning to our shores in spring and summer since Roman times. They are particularly fond of nesting in any nook and cranny they can find under the eaves of buildings where there is enough space to produce the next generation. Unfortunately, what they consider prime real estate is now in short supply. Modern methods of construction and the renovation or demolition of older housing stock has meant there has been a massive decline in the number of their traditional nesting sites. This is one of the reasons why Swift numbers have declined by an astonishing 58% since 1995.

This, coupled with a drop in insect numbers caused by persistent use of pesticides and changes to arable farming practices is depriving them and other species of birds of their only source of food.

Added to this, changes in weather patterns and increasing numbers of severe weather events due to climate change have also added to the mortality rate of this iconic bird. Indeed, Swifts are now so threatened by multiple forces that they have been added to the Red List of birds of Conservation Concern. So, how can we help?

1. Could you install a nest box or a Swift brick?

    Swifts make their nests under the eaves or even under the roof tiles of our houses. As we try to insulate our homes against ever increasing fuel bills or repair broken fascias and soffits these nesting sites sometimes become no longer available. In late spring you may notice prospecting Swifts investigating the eaves of your house by persistently “banging” against it or sweeping noisily past in a group known as a screaming party. If you live in an area where Swifts are known to nest, installing a nest box or Swift Brick during renovations could help to increase the colony. Swifts are very sociable and like having neighbours next door. Using a Swift Caller will also help them find their new box.

    2. Let it grow

      Swifts feed in the air. They catch spiderlings, midges and many other insects and invertebrates as they scythe effortlessly through the air. If your house can’t accommodate a Swift box you can help by providing them with insects instead. If you have a garden, let the lawn grow a bit longer. You could sow a “wildflower mix” that insects will like or grow plants with single rather than double flowers which insects prefer. Planting a tree or a hedge will also provide the essential food and habitat to allow the numbers of insects to increase. And, if you do not have a garden, a trough, window box or hanging basket would still help.

      3. Make a pond

        If you ever walk near a pond you will notice how many insects are swarming just above the surface. A pond in your garden will help the number and variety of insects to flourish. Your pond does not have to be a large one. A bucket or bowl submerged in the ground with oxygenating plants such as Water Milfoil and a tall plant such as an Iris at the edge will soon attract interesting wildlife.

        4. Don’t use pesticides

          If you stop using pesticides and herbicides, not only will you be helping the insect population to grow but you might also find other animals like hedgehogs and bats enjoying your garden too.

          5. Spread the word and get involved

            The more people who know and begin to understand these mesmerising birds the better it will be for their futures. Swift Awareness Week, 1st to 9th July 2023, is all about spreading the word about our intriguing summer visitors. Look out for walks and talks to celebrate Swifts organised by local Swift groups near you.

            More about Lewes Swift Supporters

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            Comments

            • Jenny Noraika:

              I am a member of Somerset Wildlife Trust, I would love to put up swift nests but live in a ground-floor flat. I can’t make a pond, but I have been growing more plants and shrubs that insects like and I always spread the word. Builders here are still not incorporating swift bricks in new builds, which is a real shame as we have so few swifts now compared to 20 – 30 years ago. I wish Somerset would high-light this subject more. Keep up your good work.

              01 Jul 2023 12:31:00

            • Helene Fallenius:

              It is our utmost duty to protect and look after all wildlife who is helpless with the human abuse and interference with nature. Let us all do what we can to give them ALL protection and help possible.

              06 Jul 2023 12:04:00

            • Susan Jappie:

              I hope to see more swifts around here soon!

              06 Jul 2023 16:02:00

            • Jamie Fidgett:

              I’ve got a first floor balcony so no access to roof or garden. I have put a bird feeder on my balcony though with fat balls and wild bird seeds but is there any more I can do

              06 Jul 2023 16:03:00

            • Sussex Wildlife Trust:

              You could do this by having a trough, pot, or hanging basket of perennial wildflowers - well drained, using peat-free compost - best to star in the spring or autumn. More info here  https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover...

            • gabrielle argent:

              Hi I live with arable land around me and the farmers spray their crops. We noticed zero insects in the oil seed rape field last year and are only now seeing a few butterflies and bees this year. How can we persuade farmers to stop spraying? the chemicals spread to hedgerows, verges and neighbouring properties. Its just ridiculous!

              06 Jul 2023 18:43:00

            • Lindsay Rebbeck:

              I live in a semi detached house in Lavant near Chichester & would like to encourage swifts. Could I install a nest box & where would I get one? I lived on an organic farm in west Wales till 2005 & they were declining then.

              06 Jul 2023 19:32:00

            • Sussex Wildlife Trust:

              Guidelines for deciding whether to install a Swift nest box.

              Is there a site facing North-ish which is at least 4.5 m from the ground with a clear flight path - not trees or wires blocking the way?

              Have you seen Swifts flying nearby?

              If yes to both, have a look at Peak Boxes: Swift Boxes — Peak Boxes

              How can we help Swifts? - Lewes Swift Supporters (e-voice.org.uk)


            • Margaret Devitt:

              Delighted to follow your suggestion but why don’t you tell us where to buy swift boxes?

              07 Jul 2023 08:31:00

            • Sussex Wildlife Trust:

              If you contact Lewes Swift Supporters, they can advise you on buying Swift boxes https://e-voice.org.uk/lewessw...

            • Wayne Upton:

              We are very lucky here,(at the moment), as we have quite a number of Swifts which hunt the skies above our woods and meadows. There is not much else that quite lifts the spirits as when the first Swifts and our earlier arrivals, the Swallows, liven the skies up above our garden, when they return again from Africa. Very special and amazing little birds.

              07 Jul 2023 11:17:00

            • Mark Marsh:

              You should urge local planning officers insist that all new building have at least one swift nest bricks installed https://www.manthorpebp.co.uk/environmental/swift-nesting-brick

              07 Jul 2023 11:18:00

            • peter winder:

              I have all the above and enjoy many bird species

              07 Jul 2023 20:43:00

            • Janet Newnham:

              I am a member of the Sussex Wildlife Trust. I have been given a Swift Box for my birthday and wondered if you run a service that would install it for me or could you recommend someone who could provide this service.
              Thank you.

              23 Jul 2023 16:49:00

            • Sussex Wildlife Trust:

              Hi Janet. Great that you've got a box. We don't offer an installation service - we suggest you contact Lewes Swift Supporters, who put up boxes around the town and might be able to point you in the right direction to find someone who can help where you are (or at least advise on where it is best to place it) https://e-voice.org.uk/lewessw...

            • Barnaby Green:

              Thank you. Sharing. Also checking my fascias and roof eaves this morning. 👍🏼

              21 May 2024 07:16:00