Keeping the skies screaming

, 02 July 2021
Keeping the skies screaming
Swift © Stefan Johansson

Emma Chaplin

Communications Officer


UPDATE: 22 July 2021

My swift nest box is up, thanks to the hard (hot) work of Audrey, Dave and Nick today. I could not be more delighted and grateful.

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Here are some things I've learnt:

  • Swift boxes come in the following configurations: corner, left handed, right handed or designed for the apex of a house. There are double ones - and best of all - ones with a 'bat rack' so bats can nest behind the swifts! 
  • These boxes are made from sustainable plywood by Peak Boxes and are designed to mimic the "up and under" approach to eaves in Lewes that swifts are used to. 
  • The Lewes Swift Supporters have been out, virtually very night from April 22nd (which was freezing cold!) from 7.30pm until dark, watching out for the return of Lewes swifts to known nest sites. They are still out now every evening from 8pm until dark, unless it's pouring. This year 'swift watch' has taken off lots of people around Lewes taking part and reporting their sightings. 
  • The number of boxes they have arranged to be installed is: 54 single, 20 double and one apex box - providing an additional 97 new nest spaces altogether. 25 of the single boxes were funded by LSS, using grants from Sussex Ornithological Society, Friends of Lewes, Chalk Cliff Trust and Sussex Police.
  • All but one of the boxes they've put up have swifts nesting in them
  • Each nest box has some feathers in already - a starter home if you like

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"Keeping the skies screaming" is the motto of the Lewes Swift Supporters or LSS, which is currently run by a great group of volunteers. Our Head of Community Action for Wildlife, Michael Blencowe, was a founder member.

Swifts are with us for only three months of the year, from May to the beginning of August. They spend the rest of the year on migration to and from central Africa, and amazingly, they stay on the wing for all of that time, even sleeping in flight, not landing on their feet even once. In fact, they only land to nest, so when the young Swift fledglings leave they don’t land for another two or three years until they are ready to breed themselves. You are likely to hear the screeching of Swifts before you see a gang of them swooping overhead.

Swift page 2 w640

© Neil Fletcher

I've recently moved to Western Road in Lewes, which by delightful happenstance is 'Swift central' in Lewes. I previously lived in the Pells area, which has a large pond and wonderful wildlife. But what I've lost in ducks, I've made up for in discovering the joyful screaming of Swifts over my house and garden.

I joined the Lewes Swift Supporters, or LSS, (which is free) so now I get regular updates as to Swift numbers and activities by following them on social media.

LSS is run by a group of volunteers who monitor and care for the nest sites already in place and create new homes for the birds, by spreading the word about these magnificent summer visitors. 

Lewes has always been an important town for Swifts, with an estimated 10% of Sussex Swifts nesting here. But renovation of old buildings and modern building methods mean that many of the nooks, crannies and eaves where they historically built their nests have disappeared.

LSS's surveys of Swifts, from late April to early August, identify existing nests and areas where young Swifts are prospecting.

Because I live in a Swift "hot spot", I have been invited to host a Swift nest box. Swifts are social birds and like to live in groups, and LSS concentrate their efforts on expanding existing colonies, which is best practice. 

Perfect timing means my nest box is being installed towards the end of Swift Awareness Week (3-11 July). It will look like this - and I'll provide an update once it's up!

If you look up under the eaves along Western Road, you'll see a number of houses already have them. 

Now I just have to wait until next May to see if my nest box becomes a home for visiting Swifts.  

For Swift Awareness Week, Lewes Swift Supporters are running a drawing competition for children and young people - more here about how to enter

If you don't live in a Swift hot spot, Lewes Swift Supporters can advise on the best position for the box and, arrange for installation of a box that you pay for, with £20 installation fee.  

Funding for the Swift boxes has come from Sussex Ornithological Society, Friends of Lewes, Sussex Police and the Chalk Cliff Trust

LSS are working with Imogen Makepeace and other councillors to draw up a leaflet to help Lewes Town Council and other local councils put installation of Swift bricks as a condition of planning in new developments and renovations in "Swift areas".

More about Swifts here 

Leave a comment


  • Davina kennedy:

    Is Ringmer a swift hotspot?
    I haven’t seen any.
    If it is, I would like a swift box please

    You could contact Lewes Swift Supporters via their website for advice Emma

    03 Jul 2021 19:48:00

  • Carol Goddard:

    Please can anyone tell me about the swifts in Horsham? I have been visiting Horsham off and on for 10 years and in that time it seems that the swift population there has fallen away? I would love to know more about the swifts there and in Lewis. Can I be on your email list please? Thanks

    ANSWER: Please contact Audrey Wende at Sussex Ornithological Society, by emailing: [email protected] SOS have been leading work on Sussex swifts for many years now and may have up to date survey data.

    08 Jul 2021 13:10:00

  • Elaine Evans:

    When I read that Barratt Developments were putting swift bricks in every new house, I bought their shares. They have other wildlife friendly innovations in the gardens. Check them out!

    09 Jul 2021 08:02:00

  • I. Macfadyen:

    I’m impressed Barratt homes are puting swift bricks in their new developments. It’s really innovative & exciting that developers can do things like this to give wildlife a helping hand!

    09 Jul 2021 12:55:00

  • Brian Newbury:

    We live at Iford and witness the spectacle of Swallows and Swifts wheeling round and round above the Phacelia (pollinator) crop planted in the field opposite. We surmise that the birds are feasting on insects rising up from the flowers on warm days. Perhaps Michael Blencowe can confirm this.

    10 Jul 2021 08:50:00