Toby Wilson, RSPB Scotland's conservation officer in Glasgow, tells us about his love of swifts, and what we can all do to help these remarkable birds.  

Top ten birds? Top five? Number one? I love swifts. It would be a hard heart that is not moved by the sight and sound of the sickle-shaped swifts racing along rooftops on a balmy summer’s evening, or amazed by the near-continuous migration they undertake, all the way to east Africa and back, or intrigued by the fact that they barely touch down in the whole of their lives, eating, mating and evening sleeping on the wing. Swifts are closely tied to humans, with nearly all of the UK’s swifts nesting in the nooks and crannies of our buildings, which, along with their neat habits, helps to build an affinity as well as an admiration for these fantastic birds.

But in Glasgow, like most parts of the UK, there are fewer and fewer swifts to be enjoyed, with Scotland seeing an alarming 60% decline in numbers since 1995 and our streets falling silent of their calls. There are a number of reasons for this decline but a significant factor is likely to be the loss of nest sites as buildings are renovated or knocked down.

RSPB Scotland is working in partnership with conservation organisations, enlightened developers and local authorities to protect and provide nest sites for swifts in house developments and renovations; monitoring local swift populations and nest sites through ‘citizen science’. One of the first objectives of the project is to raise public awareness of the dramatic decline of swifts and we as individuals can have an impact, particularly if you are lucky enough to have swifts nesting in your home or nearby.

What can people do to help swifts?

  • We need people to send their swift sightings to the RSPB Swift Survey at survey. This will provide essential data on swift nest site locations to assist planners and developers to protect and enhance swift colonies through mitigation during development, acting as a vital conservation planning tool.
  • Leave existing nest sites undisturbed and avoid working on walls or roofs with swifts nesting in them during the breeding season, May to August inclusive.
  • When repairing or restoring a roof keep swifts in mind: make sure new access holes match the location of the old ones.
  • Never disturb swifts at the nest.
  • Put up swift nest boxes at home and play swift calls to attract them.
  • Comment on local planning applications, asking your local authority to protect and provide swift nest places.

It's not too late to put up a swift nest box this year. You can have a go at making one yourself or they can be purchased in RSPB shops or online. Swifts are one of six 'priority' species that have been identified in Glasgow along with house sparrows, hedgehogs, water voles, bumblebees and bats.   

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