Alasdair McKee

 

Join the screaming party

The phrase “screaming party” may conjure an image of toddlers who have had too much cake and jelly, but it also perfectly describes the gatherings of swifts that hurtle through our summer streets at speeds of up to 70mph. It’s one of the most evocative sounds of the season but, sadly, one that's being heard less and less.

Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com) - Swifts, “as if the bow had flown off with the arrow” as said by poet Edward Thomas

 

Why swifts need our help

Swifts migrate to the UK from Africa to breed in May, but the volume of their screaming masks a worrying decline. Their population has fallen by 58% in 25 years. This is partly due to falling insect numbers but also the loss of traditional nest sites in towns and cities. As old buildings are lost and eaves closed off with soffits, these nest sites disappear.

Protecting nests, and creating new ones, is one of the best ways to help these amazing birds - and RSPB local groups are doing just that around the country.

 

Surveying swifts near you

RSPB local groups are our voice in the community; volunteers who help support our work for nature. Bromley Local Group is one of many working with swifts, running annual surveys and recording them via the Swiftmapper website. This online tool is available to all, so you could become a citizen scientist and help us survey swifts near you too! 

Swiftmapper - Swift sightings recorded across the UK

 

Working for swift bricks in housing developments

Bromley group has also helped create homes for swifts by influencing local planners. Volunteer Swift Champions review planning applications for new developments and request the installation of hollow swift bricks for birds to nest in. Since starting in 2020, their work has resulted in almost 100 swift bricks being either recommended or made a condition of new developments.

rspb-images.com - Cutaway image of a swift brick

 

Swift streets and schools

Swift bricks are a great way to help swifts in new buildings, but on older houses, nest boxes are the best option. Lancaster local group teamed up with the local Men's Shed community project who built an amazing 60 nest boxes. Thirty of these will be in the city’s first Swift Street, where residents will create a new colony for these sociable birds. The nearby Lancaster Royal Grammar School is involved too and have installed twenty boxes to add to their existing colony.

Will Walton - The Men’s Shed community project helping make nest boxes

 

Aiming high

Swifts nest high up, so they like tall buildings – like churches. Our local volunteers in Bolton are working with the Catholic Diocese of Salford to install nest boxes in church towers. A pilot scheme last summer saw swifts nest and breed successfully. Now they plan to expand the project to twenty parishes – and beyond!

Gavin Thomas - St Wilfrid’s church in Longridge, Lancashire, is now home to families of swifts

 

Meet the swifts

Macclesfield local group work with their RSPB youth groups as ‘Swifts over Macclesfield'. As well as surveying and installing over 100 nest boxes, they are one of several groups doing brilliant work to engage people with swifts, including their local MP. They arrange walks during Swift Awareness Week in July, run art and poetry competitions, and even created Emily the Giant swift who ‘flies’ around the area to raise awareness.

RSPB Macclesfield Local Group - Swifts over Macclesfield spread the word with Emily the giant swift in the background

These are just a handful of the fantastic actions helping swifts around the country. From Bath to Belfast and Carlisle to Cardiff, from Grimsby to Glasgow and Chorleywood to Chester - our local groups and volunteers are doing amazing work.

 

Feeling inspired?

You can learn more about swifts and how you can help them on our swift pages, map your swift sightings on Swiftmapper, or find your RSPB Local Group to support projects near you. When we work together, we can make a big difference for nature.

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