9 May 2016

The recent heatwave in Chester has given us a taste of summer – the time of year to be looking out for visitors like the swift; an impressive species of bird that has one of the longest migration journeys in the world! 

The swifts we see in the UK only spend three months a year here, from the beginning of May until the end of July – just long enough to breed. The rest of their time is spent in Africa. Yes, these birds fly across an incredible distance without stopping; they even sleep on the wing! In fact they only land to breed, so they also eat, drink, clean and even mate whilst in flight.

Swift in flight. Photo credit: Mike Lane

We need your support to help survey the species and create new nest sites for this incredible bird species. Experts are offering tips on how to lend a helping hand to this British favourite by protecting nest sites and putting up nest boxes. Meanwhile the first major swift survey in the Chester area for 20 years is underway. 

Conservationists from Chester Zoo and the Chester RSPB Group have teamed up with Chester and Cheshire West Council (CWAC), RECORD, Cheshire Wildlife Trust, the Cheshire biological records centre and local experts in a bid to help the bird by turning Chester into a swift friendly city.

Manon Keir, Wildlife Connections project officer at Chester Zoo, said:

The great British summer would not be the same without the sight and sounds of swifts gracing our skies, but we mustn’t take this for granted. Conservation is critical but it is certainly not too late. Every one of us can make a difference. There is a simple video guide on the Chester Zoo website demonstrating how to make a swift nest box for your garden. And the RSPB Chester Group are recruiting volunteers for the 2017 swift survey. It’s time to Act for Wildlife together.

You’ll need to keep an eye on the skies as these birds like to fly high above, catching food in their small beak which is perfectly designed to capture flying insects. Their most noticeable feature is their forked tail and long wing span, however there are other species of birds that look quite similar to a swift, such as the house martin and swallow. 

Roger Nutter from RSPB Chester Group, said:

In summer 2016, more than 200 records were submitted in the first phase of the Chester Swift Survey. We hope that even more people will take part in 2017. Volunteers who would like to help with the survey should contact Chester RSPB Group here.

Historically, swifts used to nest inside holes in trees and rocky crevices but since Roman times they have made use of buildings, nesting in places like eaves and holes in walls, so much so, that you rarely find them nesting anywhere else nowadays. Swifts pair for life and will meet up with their mate at the same nest each year, so if they arrive back to find that their nest site has suddenly become inaccessible it can mean that they might not breed that year, especially if there are no other suitable nesting sites nearby. 

New buildings don’t often provide the right areas for swifts to make their nests and is one of the reasons they aren’t doing too well in the UK. Their numbers have declined by up to 50% over the past 20 years. That’s why we’re asking for your help to create save spaces for these birds to nest in during their time here; have a look through our How to help nesting swifts guide for more information. Please tell us how you get on too by recording your activities here; this way we can see the impact we’re having on local wildlife.

Photo credit: Drakuliren

Swifts like to be located high up in the roof space under the eaves of houses or other buildings and they build their nests using different materials, including grass, straw, feathers and paper. The RSPB have pulled together some simple tips to help you identify swifts, which you can find here.