Imagine spending two years on the wing, your feet never once touching the ground, and then when you finally come in for a landing, there’s nowhere to go.
This is now the story for many of Dumfries and Galloway’s swifts, the sickle-shaped birds that spend their winters in Africa, and then migrate to sites all over Europe during the summer to breed.
Swifts have declined by an alarming 38 per cent since 1995 and are now an amber-listed species on the list of Birds of Conservation Concern. Help is now needed to support the remaining population.
RSPB Scotland’s Julia Gallagher said: “The sight of swifts, and the sounds of their screams overhead, are sure signs that summer is here. It’s terrible to think of those screams being silenced. Unlike swallows and house martins, which build their nests in mud ‘cups’ attached to the eaves or rafters of buildings, swifts nest in crevices or in gaps in the stonework of buildings.
“As more old houses are renovated or demolished, traditional nesting sites are being lost, and new buildings often don’t offer suitable replacements. We know that swift colonies have been lost in Dumfries and Galloway due to building renovations, which is very sad since it is such a relatively easy thing to remedy.”
Swifts will soon be heading back to Africa for the winter, but you can still act to help them by:
· Contacting the RSPB Scotland Dumfries and Galloway Office to give your record of nesting swifts or ‘screaming parties’ of swifts flying low overhead.
· Recording where you see or hear swifts through the RSPB’s survey: rspb.org.uk/swift survey.
· Keeping swifts in mind when making repairs, leaving occupied sites undisturbed in the summer, and protecting existing nesting holes.
· Putting up swift nest boxes.
· Commenting on local planning applications, asking your local authority to protect and provide swift nest places.
Swifts spend almost their entire lives on the wing, landing only to nest. As they do not breed until they are two or three years old a newly-fledged swift won’t land for at least two years.
Because they spend so much time flying, swifts have tiny, but powerful feet, and in fact their Latin name, Apus apus, literally means footless footless.
Adult swifts feed by scooping small insects and spiders out of the air. Parents mix their catch with saliva to form food balls to pass to their nestlings. Each of these food balls can contain 500 insects.
If you have information on local nesting sites and swift screaming parties in Dumfries and Galloway we would like to hear from you. Contact Julia Gallagher on: 01556 670 478 or email Julia.Gallagher@rspb.org.uk.