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Swifts in Dry Drayton

 

Report on Swift Summer in Dry Drayton 2018 - From Rowena Baxter - 24 August 2018

 

Seven new boxes were added to our colony during the swifts' absence: five on Michael Clydesdale's house in Pettitt's Close and two on Roger Swain's in Baker's Field.  They weren't used this year and we won't know until 2019 whether any of these boxes have been taken up for breeding next year.

 

The first swifts were seen in Pettitts Close on 7 May.  The season started very slowly and even by 17 May very few had returned compared with previous years:  in 2017 all breeding pairs had returned by the second week in May. There was much consternation amongst UK swift enthusiasts: it was thought that there had been a problem for returning migrants returning through Spain due to very poor weather - southern Europe did not escape the 'beast from the east' bringing unseasonably cold wet weather.  We all wondered whether many of our usual breeding pairs had perished en route, as in April there were reports from southern Spain of many dead and dying swifts and other migrants on the streets of the towns and cities. 

 

However, by the end of May 2018 all the boxes used last year had occupants, but of course it's impossible to know if they were the same birds as previous years.  3 more of the original boxes were occupied than last year. Then we had two months of very hot, dry weather, perfect for breeding swifts with lots of aerial insects.  As a result all pairs completed their breeding in the shortest time, which is just over 8 weeks from laying to fledging.  By July we were regularly seeing up to 30 birds in the sky above Pettitt's Close.  It has been quite difficult this year to count the babies in the boxes as they did not show so well,  but from what we managed to see it seems a conservative estimate of young swifts leaving Pettitt's Close is 21, which is well up on last year's 12 or so.  The last swifts were seen on 7/8 August.

 

If you would like advice regarding putting up a swift box, please contact Michael Clydesdale (780957)  or Rowena Baxter (780913).

 

Young Swift about to Fledge from Pettitts Close, Dry Drayton

Young swift about to fledge from Pettitt's Close (photo: Clive Cooper)

 


Summer 2018 News

 

Have you seen our Dry Drayton swifts yet?  Take some time this week in June to come along to Pettitt’s Close and watch the aerobatic displays of our swifts.  They are breeding here at the height of the summer, taking advantage of the aerial plankton (flying insects). Choose a dry warm day, not too windy - particularly before 10 am and at sunset for the best chance of seeing these charismatic birds.

 

You might be interested in some of the following events to mark Swift Awareness Week 16-23 June 2018:  all this information and more is available on a map here.

 

Saturday 16th from 1:00pm - 5pm - Swift Open Day - at St Vigor's Church Manor Walk, Fulbourn, CB21 5EP. Arranged by Fulbourn Swifts Group. See our swifts flying around the church tower and view the live screening of nesting activity from the tower camera boxes. You’ll be able to view the rspb swift video, filmed in Fulbourn, and recorded video clips of nest box activity. There will be information displays about swifts and you’ll be able to learn about the very successful swift nest box project on the nearby Swifts Development where there are 276 boxes. Swift nest boxes will be on display with a variety of information leaflets on swift conservation. There will be a guided walk around the village to watch swifts. Light refreshments will be available. Free event and no booking necessary. Contact John Willis - fulbournforum@gmail.com or 01223 881103. See www.fulbournforum.org.uk

 

Tuesday 19th from 7:00pm - 9:00pm - Save Our Suffolk Swifts – A talk arranged by Suffolk Wildlife Trust and Suffolk Ornithologists’ Group at Memorial Hall, High Street, Newmarket, CB8 8JP. Parking is available locally. A fascinating and well-illustrated talk on the amazing lives of Swifts – now officially Endangered as a breeding bird in the UK. You’ll learn how the Save our Suffolk Swifts project is acting to reverse the alarming decline in numbers of these special birds in our towns and villages - and how you can help them in your own communities. Free event, no booking necessary but donations to SOS Swifts will be greatly appreciated.

 

Tuesday 19th from 7:00pm - 9:00pm - Something in the Air – To celebrate UK Swift Awareness week, Wildlife Trust BCN is hosting an event at Trumpington Meadows nature reserve. There will be a talk by Dick Newell, the unveiling of our new box, advice on how to encourage swifts near your home and a short walk around the reserve to observe the swifts. The reserve's address is The Wildlife Trust BCN, Trumpington Meadows, Grantchester Road, Cambridge CB2 9LH. If driving please use Byron’s Pool car park next door. Event meets at the Ranger’s office. Free event and no booking necessary.

 

Wednesday 20th from 6:30pm. Come to a talk at 35 Smith Street, Elsworth, Cambs., CB23 4HY by Dick Newell of Action for Swifts followed by enjoying Swifts in pleasant surroundings, watching Swifts on CCTV. Booklets and Swift boxes for sale. Light refreshments are available. Free event, no booking necessary.

 

Friday 22nd meet 7:00pm - Cambridge Swift Tower Walk – Join Action for Swifts for a walk and survey of Swifts nesting around North Terrace and the surrounding area, ending with a watch of the Swift Tower. Meet at the corner of North Terrace, CB5 8DJ. Free event and no booking needed.

 

Saturday 23rd from 6:30pm - Swifts in Landbeach - A short talk by Dick Newell in the Baptist Chapel, High Street, Landbeach CB25 9FT at 6:30pm. Arrive from 5:30pm onwards to have a chance to observe the Swift boxes on the chapel and on the house next door. The talk will be followed by a short walk to All Saints church to observe the Swifts breeding in the belfry followed by a 300m walk to Old Beach Farm where 15 pairs of Swifts scream around the rooftops. Light refreshments available. Free event but booking advised - actionforswifts@gmail.com or 01223860400

 

Rowena Baxter


 

The swift summer of 2017.  Update 9th August 2017 by Rowena Baxter


When the regular breeding birds arrived in early May the weather was cool and often cloudy.  They came and went from their nests quietly and, if we hadn't been watching, we wouldn't have noticed them.  By the end of May the weather had warmed and we started to see much larger parties swooping and screaming around the houses.  June and early July were mostly perfect weather for swifts and their numbers increased. The maximum number of swifts seen in the sky around Pettitts Close at any one time in mid-July was 30+, with stunning Red-Arrow-like fly-pasts.  This success was entirely down to the warm weather at the peak of the breeding season, which encouraged the emergence of large numbers of aphids and other aerial insects. There was fierce competition and fighting for empty nest boxes amongst the younger non-breeding birds who also challenged the breeders for their nesting boxes, causing the death of at least one chick caught in up the fray at the end of June.  Possibly the ample supply of food may have caused a few 2-3 year old non-breeding birds to come into breeding condition a year early, and to lay eggs very late in the season in at least two of the spare nest boxes.  Although most of the breeding birds had completed their task by early August and have now left, as have their offspring, those two nests still contain chicks which are less than a fortnight old, as I write on 8 August.  They will not be ready to fledge until mid-September. The season has once again turned cool and damp, and we are keeping fingers crossed that the supply of aerial insects is maintained enough to see these late babies successfully off to Africa.

The number of chicks fledged from Pettitts Close up until 8 August was at least 16, up on last year, and there are probably 4 more still in the nest.   Quite a few of the remaining empty boxes have had swifts roosting in them, indicating that those birds will be back to breed next year, so it would be great to put up more boxes in the village to enable this thriving colony to expand.

 

(Ed's note - swifts fly at over 60 mph and are incredibly difficult to photograph. We are most grateful for permission to use the photos below by Val Perrin and Clive Cooper - and if you listen carefully you just might imagine you can still hear a swift passing)


 

Some of the 2017 visitors

 

More summer visitors 2017

 

A 2017 swiftlet

 

Swifts in Pettitts Close 2017, the above three photos by Val Perrin

 

2017 Swifts

 

entrance to internal nesting box

 

2017 swifts in the air and at the entrance to an internal nesting box, two photos by Clive Cooper

 

A SWIFT RETURN; A CONSERVATION INITIATIVE - Update July 2017 by Mike Clydesdale


Swifts, with their black silhouettes and scimitar shaped wings, are the iconic birds of the Summer. Their acrobatic displays and screaming calls, as they feast on airborne insects and even mate, are unique. Arriving in early May with the majority departing before the end of August, their stay is short but still time for each pair to breed and raise one or two young. 

Swifts are generally long lived (7-10 years is normal, but some have lived to more than 15) and migrate some 11000km to south east Africa for the winter months, essentially following their food; flying insects.

Swifts, like many migratory birds, have suffered a steep decline in their numbers over the past two decades. The main reason for this change have been the loss of suitable nest sites (modern houses have fewer gaps in the eaves). Worldwide there has been a concerted effort to provide nest spaces to help swifts breed. Conservation is neither cheap nor quick to show results, it is a long term commitment. For example, in Logan Meadows reserve in Cambridge a swift tower with more than 200 nest boxes was constructed in 2011 at a cost of £35000. Swifts took up residence in 2014. More recently some new houses have been built in Cambourne with nest cavities in external.

Dry Drayton has not missed out on this conservation initiative.

About 10 years ago, Rowena Baxter, of  Pettitts Close, rose to the challenge of helping the swifts by installing nest boxes. To encourage swifts to the area, taped music (actually the sound of screaming swifts!) was played in early Summer. This worked and swifts began to visit the boxes, eventually breeding successfully. Several neighbours joined the project and currently more than 25 breeding spaces, mainly external nest boxes, have been provided.

From small beginnings it is believed that about 10 youngsters fledged in 2016. With perhaps up to 25 swifts now in the Close, it is hoped that this year over 16 fledglings will launch their migratory life. Additionally, there has been an encouraging increase in the number of non-breeding swifts. These birds, up to 4 years old, are commonly known as bangers since they tend to bang into boxes as part of their prospecting for suitable future nest sites. Hopefully these birds will return to breed in the next few years, so we need to have enough accommodation for them!

The presence of swifts is exciting. Everyone in the Close eagerly looks out for the arrival of our swift colony and wants to know how many boxes are occupied and how many youngsters have fledged. The swifts' acrobatic skills, as they swoop into the boxes, are spectacular, so come along and enjoy the display in July before they migrate.

If you would like to encourage more swifts to the village and support this conservation initiative, why not consider putting up a couple of boxes. Details of suitable boxes (a local supplier is available) and their siting can be found on-line or have a word with Rowena Baxter or Michael Clydesdale

 

Picture of two swiftlets prior to fledging.
Two swiftlets prior to fledging.

 

Picture of mature swift leaving nest box.(note the different facial patterns)
Mature swift leaving nest box.(note the different facial patterns) 

 

Update - August 2015 - Rowena has written up the project so far on the Action For Swifts Blog:

http://actionforswifts.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/swifts-get-established-in-dry-drayton.html

 

The common swift (Apus apus) is a summer visitor to the British Isles, spending the majority of the year in sub-Saharan Africa.  They come to the UK (and Europe generally) to take advantage of the abundance of insects that are on the wing during our summer months, and to raise young.  Originally, before buildings were available, swifts probably nested in crevices in cliffs and holes in trees, but now they rely on us inadvertently providing nesting places in our homes and other buildings.

 

We have only very recently discovered where in Africa swifts spend the winter months.  A couple of years ago the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) captured some swifts and attached geolocators to them.  The information retrieved from the birds on their return has started to shed light on how swifts spend their time between August and April. It turns out they head for the equatorial areas, e.g. the Congo basin, but can move many hundreds of miles to take advantage of insect swarms.  Further information on this study can be found here: www.bto.org/science/migration/tracking-studies/swifts


Many of our summer migrant birds are declining, and much research is under way to try to find out why and whether we can do anything to reverse this trend. A third of British swifts have been lost since 1995 (BTO).  The reasons for this are not really known, but it is believed this is due partly to lack of, or removal of, nesting sites.  Swifts nest in holes in roofs, behind soffits, eaves and gutters.  Of course we don’t want holes in our roofs and these are gradually getting fewer as we re-roof and hermetically seal our dwellings.  Swifts are very nest-site faithful and if that nest-hole is blocked during re-roofing or other renovation works, they will find it hard to leave that site and look elsewhere.  So swifts need our help in providing artificial nest sites.  Ideally these should be built into the fabric of new buildings as can be seen in ‘The Swifts’ development in Fulbourn.  However, internal boxes can be retrofitted into existing buildings, and details can be found on the Action for Swifts website noted below, particularly under ‘architects and builders’.  The easiest method for the amateur is to put up nest boxes under eaves, and boxes can be purchased from most nestbox suppliers, e.g. NHBS or Vine House Farm, although they do tend to be rather expensive.


I had always thought of swifts as town birds, zooming around the streets in parties, screaming loudly.  It was one of the evocative city sounds of summer.  But in 2008 I noticed several swifts investigating the eaves of the houses in Pettitts Close.  Knowing that the denizens of Pettitts Close were unlikely to have holes in their houses suitable for breeding swifts, I contacted a friend in the Cambridge Bird Club who is an expert in swifts and co-founded the local group ‘Action for Swifts’.  He suggested I put up a swift box, or even better, two.  So later that summer, after the swifts had departed we fixed 2 boxes to our house, under the eaves.  I was also advised that to make it easier to attract swifts to our boxes, we should play swift calls in the daytime from mid-May to end of July when the swifts are here.  So in 2009 we set up a very basic CD system playing swift calls, close to the boxes.


We attracted swifts that very summer, they investigated the boxes, looked inside even, but it has taken another 5 years to achieve breeding in the boxes…a long story which I won’t detail here!  But suffice to say our neighbours have been very supportive and tolerant of the swift calls playing.  This year for the first time we have at least one pair breeding, maybe 2. Now we have swifts in Dry Drayton, it is likely that it would not take nearly so long to get swifts established in nearby sites, particularly in Pettitts Close, Pettitts Lane or Bakers Field.  They are stunning flyers and provide Pettitts Close with tremendous entertainment during the 3 months we welcome them as our guests.


Swifts need friends.  They are unobtrusive in their nesting habits, unlike house martins, sparrows and starlings which can be rather messy.  Additonally they ‘hoover’ up masses of small flying insects such as aphids.  Boxes should be sited on the N, E or W face of buildings, ideally under eaves, min. height about 5m, with a clear flight path in front. If you are interested in helping them, the website at: http://actionforswifts.blogspot.co.uk  is very useful with nestbox design and other advice.  A very simple nestbox design to go under horizontal eaves can be found at: http://actionforswifts.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/the-simplest-diy-swift-nest-box.html

 

Feel free to contact me 01954 780913 if I can be of help.

Rowena Baxter

Swift Box, Pettitts Close

A swift entering our nest box

 

Addendum 2nd August 2014

 

The picture below, by Clive Cooper, shows two chicks in Rowena's nestbox

two young swifts in nest box

 

Addendum 18th August 2014

 

Rowena pointed out this interesting short film on nesting Swifts from Germany

http://www.rtl-hessen.de/video/5030/tierische-unterkunft-in-kronberg