With the start of summer approaching we are gearing up to welcome swifts back to Edinburgh, where we have been working over the winter to create a sanctuary for swifts. Edinburgh Swift City Project Officer Katie O'Neill tells us what we can do to welcome them back.
The wonderful wee swifts have now left the skies above the rainforests of the Congo and are on their way north. The map below shows the migration route of a swift ‘A320’, who was tagged with a geolocator in 2010. Following the journey of A320, she first passed over Angola, crossed the Atlantic and spent two weeks above Liberia. Here she fuelled up on a protein rich diet of insects before embarking on the final leg home, travelling 5,000 km in only five days! For swifts hatched in Edinburgh, this is where they will return to find a mate and raise their own young. Adult swifts are loyal to a nesting site and juveniles nesting for the first time (at 2-3 years of age) will attempt to find a nesting site close to their parents. This is known a natal nesting.
Map credit: BTO
Why are we creating a swift sanctuary in Edinburgh?
The swift evolved 60 million years ago, about the time the Tyrannosaurus rex died out (you can tell they’re from this era when you see new-born swiftlets.). The common swift (Apus apus) is our fastest recorded bird at level height, and in local folklore they carry an uplifting and hopeful symbolism of summer’s return. Unfortunately, the UK’s swift population has declined 58% in a 23-year period between 1995-2018. Research is underway to identify possible factors in this decline. While the impact of climate change on swift populations is still unclear, the loss of swift nest sites in the roofs of buildings does appear to be at least partly responsible. Demolition or renovation of old buildings, and installation of roof insulation can result in the loss of existing swift nest sites. With funding from the ScottishPower Foundation, the RSPB Edinburgh Swift City Project aims to raise awareness about these wonderful birds, and protect and enhance swift populations in the city (and beyond).
What final few preparations can we make now for swifts returning in May?
Upcoming swift events
Nice article on an amazing bird! Would love to install a swift box but I live in a tenement and it’s difficult to fit one four storeys up.
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