In this Random Dialogue, Sarah Davies shares why the sky here in the UK is quieter, simple ways we can support and protect our declining Swift population, and the dos and don’ts if we find one in distress and who to contact. Hopefully, publishing here and elsewhere will help Sarah to raise awareness of the plight of our swifts. Sarah’s story is at the end too, please do read, comment and share. I’ve also added it to my weekly Random Dialogues newsletter here.
You may have noticed the skies are now very quiet. Missing a certain acrobatic creature of the heavens. Yes, our Swifts have left our late Summer skies, except maybe for a few pockets here and there in the country, there is a noticeable stillness, a noticeable calm, where once from May until now they graced us with their dipping and diving, soaring and tumbling and screeching parties galore.
By the start of last week many colonies in Guildford, Godalming, Farncombe, Hindhead , had halved in numbers, many of the non-breeding Swifts had started their epic 14,000 mile migration back to Africa. Mostly just the breeding parents left , attending their chick’s. But even then less visits to the nests as they prepare their chicks ( usually one or two at the most) for their long migration home, by only feeding now and then and less and less, to allow the chick to lose weight, just before it fledges.
A lighter young Swift can fly better. This is of course a precarious time . It is thought that it might be the fact that the parents that soon then leave there very hungry offspring, may trigger the action of the youngsters actually fledging. But the insects it was regularly receiving were its fluid and if the climate is too hot, that young bird may already start its journey dehydrated, especially if it waits around for too long. It's not uncommon for the parents to leave once feeding has been slowed right down and for the youngster to sit in the nest all alone for a whole week. Peering out of the nest hole now and then, contemplating its fledging.
Most of the time the fledge will be successful, but it is a busy time for the Swift rescuers and the Swift re hab specialist homes at this time of year are full of young Swifts that have been grounded. Some are injured, but most are either too underweight or dehydrated, or both.
A grounded Swift is in trouble and needs urgent care, Swifts nearly always cannot take off from the ground. They are birds of the air and cannot perch, it will be unwell and extremely vulnerable.
Only last week I rescued a Swift, a lady in Guildford was put in touch with me, she had found the youngster grounded on a road near the River Wey . She had carefully picked it up and luckily had done all the right things.
I took the young Swift to a re hab Specialist. We named the Swift Willow, as it was found near Willow trees near the River.
Willow was very young, dehydrated and weighed only 18g, when it should have weighed 40gs at approximately 30 days old.
Here is a picture of Willow being rescued, and then on day 2 in rehab . Willow is the bird shy and at the far back of the pic:
Finally, I have included some information on what to do if you find a grounded Swift. Swifts are still being seen in Hampshire and parts of London. The later-born Swifts will still be fledging this week and at the latest next week. Re habs will be busy with these last birds, with plenty of releases going on. The very last will be gone by the first week of September. We wish them well on their epic and dangerous migration and will prepare to welcome them back next summer at the beginning of May.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU FIND A GROUNDED SWIFT
● DO NOT ❎
1. Throw it up into the air, it can cause injury.
2. Put it in a bush. Swifts spend their life on the wing, they can not perch. If found on the ground it means they are in trouble and need immediate expert care from a Swift rehab carer.
3. Do not take home and feed yourself, do not feed with worms, mealworms, bird seed etc. Swifts feed on the wing and feed only on insect aeroplankton, a specialist is needed.
- Pick it up gently and cup it in your hand, place in a shoe box with airholes in the lid punched through from the inside. Lay Swift on a towel, warm heat pad, or tiny hot water bottle covered, or at least a tiny fleece material or towel with a space to move off the warm area should it need to. See pic. This Swift will be in shock and needs some warmth. However keep your shoe box in a quiet cool, darker area and away from cats.
2. If you have the Swift for a few hours before you can get to Swift Specialist, offer a little water as in one or two drops squeezed out of a cotton wool ball soaked in water, allow the Swift to take the drop from the end of its beak, take care not to get water near its nostrils, do not use a pipette, there is danger of chocking and drowning.
3. Contact in first instance your local Swift re hab collector/ adviser.
This person will give further advice and will find a re hab specialist for you locally and transport the bird for you if needed.
4. If unable to contact the Swift rescue advisor, contact the Swift re hab specialist direct. Contact details below.
Swifts are often grounded at the start of the season in May, exhausted from their migration from Africa 🌍 or at the end of the season — end of July and first few weeks of August. Keep a shoe box already prepared in your car and these local contact numbers.
Emergency contact numbers for grounded Swifts in Surrey, UK:
In first instance:
Guildford. Sarah Davis 07753306068 (Swift advice,rescue,transportation)
Swift re hab specialist local:
1. Reigate. Kasia 07795999477 Reigateswifts@gmail.com
2. Send nr Guildford. Helena 07977911985
Also — “Swift First Aid & Carers”
Thank you Sarah
This Medium article was also added to my weekly “Random Dialogues” newsletter here
4.8.22 Willow update —
Willow is doing well, needs intensive looking after, but a fighter.
Willow’s mate on the left, as you look at the photo, is starting to be ready to go, Willow will be ready in the next day or so. Both have past all the strict rules for being ready physically for release, they just now need to be both ready mentally. Their cage is now placed in the Swift Specialists room near the window, so they can see the sky and be stimulated by it, when they start to show restlessness and attitude they will be ready to go. Willow was under 20g when he was found, he was therefore in a critical condition, he has done so well. The other Swift in this picture was found in a school playground, and so very much in shock from the childrens’ noise etc, this bird has had more of a mental recovery to make and did not open his eyes to begin with, as you can see it is now doing very well. More about Willow’s story here.
I have always loved Swifts, I grew up on an estate of old houses where there was a strong, large colony of breeding Swifts and my father and I used to sit in the back garden and watch as they screamed and swooped literally over our heads. As an adult, my fascination for the Swift and the natural world grew as indeed did my awareness of our Biodiversity crisis. I joined GEF, Guildford Environmental Forum, and there I started to help on their small Swift Project, run by John Bannister. John taught me about these amazing birds and around the same time I went to a lecture by Edward Mayer the founder of www.swift-conservation.org
I was blown away learning how amazing this bird is, its massive decline and how it needs our help if it’s to survive.
The housing estate where I was raised as a child was being demolished and re built, there were no provisions for the Swifts, and infact the ecologists had said there were no breeding Swifts, as sadly they inspected at the wrong time. I was so incensed by this I decided to do something about it and so together with John Bannister, we started having meetings with the local council which was Waverley borough. This then initiated a 5-year project, I am now in year 3 of that, where we have successfully got into planning that all the new houses being built on this old houses estate will now be built with Swift bricks.
John Bannister's project at GEF was run then just by him alone, he would get a grant each year, buy Swift boxes and give them out to people who could put them up. Given lack of nesting sites is one of the most important reasons why Swifts are in decline, I decided to find another way to increase our success rate of getting boxes up. John Bannister stepped down from the Swift project and I took it over on behalf GEF. I started a project called ‘Swift to Save Swifts’ where I have teamed up with ‘ Hampshire Swifts’ together we put up as many boxes as we can in Guildford and surrounding villages each year. Hampshire Swifts make a very tried and tested design of Swift box and they come up with their team and I organise all the sites and uptake and we spend days putting them up. We sometimes put up Swift Callers too. Last year we put up 120 boxes. Swift to Save Swifts project of putting up boxes is now in its third year. We plan to start to monitor all the boxes we put up to build data, and hope to be soon mapping where are breeding Swifts are and where are boxes are going up, for our own information and also to put on the RSPB SwiftMapper.
Other projects are started to develop within the GEF Swift Project, one of the latest is making boxes for Church belfry Towers, our first one will be Wonersh Village Church later this Summer. I am setting up a system with ‘ men in Sheds’ for future building of boxes for Church Towers. Not all Churches are suitable, many are too old and unsafe in towers, but where it can be done, it seems very successful and a good 10/12 boxes can be put up in one tower.
I am now wishing to expand my Swift project and I am looking for volunteers to step forward and help me with certain roles. If you would like to get involved please email me at:
With thanks to Sarah.