At one time swifts were a common sight in our summer skies, performing their aerial acrobatics, wheeling and screaming their high-pitched calls after their marathon journeys from Africa. Sadly, these sights and sounds are less common nowadays since the number of these iconic birds arriving on our shores is unfortunately declining.
One reason for their decline is the limited availability of suitable UK nesting places. Swift conservation organisations (swift-conservation.org) are ‘doing their bit’ to counteract the problem. Could Normandy help? FNW believed that it could!
In 2018, the Head of the ‘Swift Conservation organisation’, Edward Mayer, had given a talk to FNW members in which he explained that Normandy should provide a good environment for swifts, and he recommended the Village Hall as an ideal building on which to site some nest boxes. We learnt that the nearby bird reserve at Tices’ Meadow had erected a swift nesting tower. Could Normandy do something similar? FNW decided to take up the challenge; we would set out to attract swifts into the local area by providing, not a tower, but nest boxes on the Village Hall.
Getting the project of the ground….
FNW committee members discussed the idea with members of the Management Committee of Normandy Village Hall who were very supportive and helpful. We all agreed to place four swift nest boxes unobtrusively under the eaves of the Village Hall. The site selected was on the end of the building nearest to the car park. We had to make sure there were no means of access for rats or squirrels; that the entrances were sheltered from wind and rain; and that the boxes were clear of obstructions to allow the birds to fly straight into the entrance holes. Swifts are tidy birds and the adults eat their chicks’ droppings so the set-up would be as maintenance free as possible.
Enticing the birds to their new homes….
Having bought some suitable nest boxes we had to think about how to attract some occupants. We knew swifts had been seen flying around the area but we needed to attract them to these new ‘Des Reses’. A recommended way of doing this is to play them swift calls, so we also mounted a small specialised ‘swift call’ mp3 player near the nest boxes.
Breeding birds arrive from Africa in early May returning to the nest sites they had used in previous years, hopefully in the local Normandy area. Two-year-old birds return to the UK from mid-May onwards looking for a nest site, and to mate and start nest building, although they will not actually breed until the following year. It is these birds that we hope to attract. One-year old birds arrive in July and do not stay long, but they are looking for swift colonies to join so we could attract these as well. With these dates in mind, calls are played from mid-May and continuing until the third week in July.
Let’s all keep our fingers crossed and hope for success!
It could take several years to entice the swifts to nest – this is year 2 of the project – but we know swifts have been spotted in the parish so we can hope that it is a lot sooner. House sparrows might build in the nest boxes to begin with, but these little birds are also declining so that would be good! We would just need to clean the boxes out afterwards.
From May onwards keep looking skywards and if you see swifts in the area please let us know. If you see them exploring the nest boxes then that would be even better!
Top photo of swift at box by fs-phil under creative commons.