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Highlands & Islands Swift Survey

Helping to the Decline of Swifts in Scotland

The 2006 Highland Swift Survey was undertaken as Swift numbers throughout the UK are dwindling. Between 1994 and 2003, the British Trust for Ornithology recorded a 62% decline in the Scottish Swift population. A baseline of where Swifts breed in Highland was required.

Overall, a total of 137 records (including flying/feeding sightings) were reported to the 2006 Highland Swift survey for 48 distinct Highland towns/areas. From these records, a total of 115 individual Swift nest sites were located in 45 distinct towns/locations. The peak numbers of displaying birds and numbers of nest sites identified for each town/location, including the 61 nest sites recorded in the Highlands by the Cairngorm 2005 Swift Nest Survey, are summarised.

The Swift is the briefest summer visitor to our shores, its summer holidays here last just over three months and then it is off south to Africa for the winter. Its shrill, screaming calls and acrobatic flight make it easy to spot.

Though originally cliff or cave nesters, Swifts have “moved in” to our buildings in the last few hundred years. They depend on small holes on the outside of buildings to access larger inner cavities in which they nest and rear their young. Swifts are harmless, create little mess and are fully protected by UK law.

One of the main causes of this decline is believed to be the loss of nest sites through the refurbishment of old buildings and new building design. Fortunately, this is a problem that can be mitigated if nest-site locations are identified and building methods are adapted to suit these birds.


For help with identifying Swifts and their nest-sites, see the Swift Survey Guide.

This project was part of the Highland BAP Implementation Programme, financed by the European Union under the North and West Highland Leader+ 2000-20006 Programmes, Scottish Natural Heritage and The Highland Council.

Highland Environment Forum

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