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Swift Survey Guide

Identifying Swifts

Swifts are plain, sooty brown in colour, with large sickle shaped wings and a short forked tail. With a wingspan of up to 44 cm, they are bigger than similar-looking martins and swallows and lack the blue plumage of these other house-nesting birds. Swifts have very short legs and feet so are unable to perch and only ever land on their nest. They are therefore never seen perched on trees or hopping along the ground!

Where do Swifts nest?

Swifts are naturally cave, tree-hole and cliff nesters but most have switched their nesting to man-made structures, depending on small holes on the outside of buildings typically at least 4m above ground, to gain access to larger spaces within under roof tiles, in the eaves or in lofts. They construct their nests with straw and feathers collected in the air, cemented together with saliva. Swifts do no harm and make very little mess.

When to look out for Swifts?

The best time to look for swifts is in the morning before 9am and in the evening, a few hours before dusk between May and August. Fair weather is best. Although their nest sites are hard to spot a characteristic behaviour of local Swifts is the formation of ‘screaming’ parties on warm summer evenings, chasing around the buildings where they nest. This behaviour is therefore a good indication that their nest-sites are near by.

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