Which swift box designs are most successful?

  1. For next year's swift season I want to install a few swift boxes on the gable end ( sloping eaves) of my property. It  is south facing but is sheltered somewhat by the roof. However I am getting a bit confused on which design of swift box to use (there are so many). Due to the sloping eaves the box won't be able to be tucked under the eaves like a flat eave would so it would either be mounted directly on the wall or as close as possible to the eaves. Does anyone have an idea on the best design for my situation and box that would be most successful in attracting swifts. Many thanks. 
  • Morning Swift,

    I've no expert advice to give (as I'm not an expert), but here's what I know having talked to a few who are in the know.

    We have a similar situation to yours and have placed boxes under the eaves. We've the advantage of having helpfully placed windows and ledges.

    We bought our boxes directly from BirdLife Switzerland (that's where we live). A local engineer and swift enthusiast also makes boxes. The two designs are almost identical I understand.

    Re attracting Swifts, our boxes have been up for two breeding seasons and not a sniff. As an acquaintance at BirdLife Switzerland explained, Swifts are conservative birds, and for them to use boxes, they need to alter their mental picture of what and what does not constitute a nesting site. So, it's not just the right-sized hole (which is, I think, fairly standard on most designs, although I can't remember what it is... 78mm by something or other...).

    We were recently told to "dress" the boxes. So, place a few leaves and some dry grass around and a few stems of grass sticking out. This tells the birds that this is a nest (or that House Sparrows have already used it, so it must be a nest). I've done that, but probably far too late in the season. We'll see if that has some effect next year.

    You can also buy CDs (or, I guess, downloads) of swift calls. That and a little battery-operated Bluetooth speaker might be worth a try, particularly if you have no under-tile nesters to do that job for you.

    We've been advised to keep the boxes closed until just before the swifts arrive. This stops sparrows squatting in them. And, of course, ensure that nothing can improvise a nest on top of your boxes. Our boxes (wooden) can be quickly modified to be mounted widthways or lengthways. Either way, there's a sliding metal door that covers the entry hole. I open that when I see the first birds arriving.

    Here, we have three distinct waves: passage birds, those that have already nested in a previous year, those that have yet to nest (so, the bouncers that skim off the eaves looking for potential nesting sites for this, or next, year). Once the passage birds are sighted, the birds that are yet to nest are probably close behind (a matter of days), so it's relatively easy to judge when you should open your boxes up.

    Elevation and flight path are both also important, and for the last two years we've been working on giving our under-tile nesters a good, unobstructed way in to their nests (and so, on giving the youngsters when they eventually fledge a good, unobstructed way out into the world).

    We've also pruned east--west, so we've a clearer path across the south side of the house.

    This attention to flight paths has taken us up from one success and one failure in  2020 to one failed nest this year with three on the go; all under the tiles.

    I hope that at least some of the above is a help to you.

    Best regards -

    Dave

  • I can't really add anything else. That link Internetman provided covers just about everything. I would highlight the need to be located high enough up (as per that website) and not to just risk it if the height is insufficient. I've seen a box go up in the village that may attract adults but is clearly well below the recommended height. I fear any youngsters will just crash land from it. It is also quite cluttered underneath and in the flight route, with a road as 'the approach corridor'. Nice idea but wrong location. Hopefully yours is much better.
  • That is a great link from Internetman. And Robbo is absolutely right about elevation being important.

    @Swift: If you have the option of having the boxes easily accessible, you'll be the darling of anyone working in swift conservation.

    Swifts (Common Swifts at least ) will fairly readily accept and adopt orphans, which means that easily accessible boxes are a boon.

    As an acquaintance of ours says, he'd rather walk up the stairs to our attic than be 6m up on a ladder. And he himself has a large colony; last count is boxes in 3 figures I believe.

    Best regards - 

    Dave 

  • Hi.
    The link Internetman posted is an excellent resource and advice from Dave-CH is spot on.
    I made and installed two boxes under my house eaves in early May 2020, accompanied by a speaker and call set up as found on that link. Swifts appeared around 16th May 2020 and proceeded to fly by and occasionally bang the boxes. The boxes were examined and entered several times by Swifts so I was very happy, especially as I'd only installed them shortly before they arrived...
    This year the Swifts arrived a little later, 26th May but immediately showed an interest and on 7th June the first pair began nesting followed by a second pair around a week later. I turned the calls off and left them to it.
    The first box fledged a few days ago but the adults are still entering the second box every half hour at the moment.
    Five more boxes planned for this winter and I'm trying to convince friends and neighbours to do the same.
  • In reply to jgtuk:

    jgtuk said:
    This year the Swifts arrived a little later

    General (expert) consensus here in Switzerland is 3 weeks later than "average" jgtuk.

    Best regards - 

    Dave 

  • In reply to Dave - CH:

    Cheers Dave. Mine were about ten days late but I've heard others correlate with you, in fact a lot of people saying overall numbers down this year...
    Where in CH are you, my family live near to Neuchatel.
  • Hi all, thank you for the advice, I think I might purchase a few boxes from John stimson who supplies a model with a uPvc roof to protect the box from the elements. Probably cant go wrong with his boxes he has sold thousands! I've already planned using a swift calls to lure them in next year (to the neighbours delight : ) ). When they will be as far up as possible and they should have a clear flight path so all going well we might get some birds. Out of interest what design of boxes have you had success with ?(were they shoebox? Zeist?). Also has anybody had success with housemartins and swifts nesting nearby as I may install some housemartins nest cups
  • In reply to jgtuk:

    jgtuk said:
    a lot of people saying overall numbers down this year

    I've a note to ask Sempach about that in Nov/Dec jgtuk, when they have a better handle on the figures. There seems to have been no or only little delay further into the Jura, down at lower altitudes, and an acquaintance up toward the Clos du Doubs hasn't commented on reduced numbers (yet).

    Friends who work in rehab. centres are saying that numbers are down for swifts (Common and Alpine) and House Martins. But I don't think we can say yet whether it's the birds that have changed or the people (who find birds and take them in to rehab.) I was meant to do the House Martin count again this year (sensibilization thing with schools), but the weather put a stop to it.

    We're not so far from Neuchâtel (a little further north, in the hills). In fact, I was there this afternoon, but for the first time in... well, a long time.

    Doesn't seem to have changed much: looks great, but you couldn't get a coffee there today if you'd had a bag of gold. Still, the young GK Grebes are looking very nice bobbing around the harbour.

    All the best - 

    Dave 

  • In reply to Swift1235467:

    Can't comment on mixed swifts and House Martins Swift (ohhh... that sound complicated); the only time the Martins come up to this side of the valley is when it's about to rain. Not enough nesting material around.

    Re the boxes, you can see ours (currently unoccupied) at this link: www.vogelwarte.ch/.../nichoir-pour-martinet-noir

    I'm very glad you started this thread. It's convinced me to try with the lure/calls next year too.

    Thank you -
    Dave