|A Swift glides effortlessly across the surface of the water|
photo credit RSPB website
Last week the Swifts gathered in large numbers overhead, flying low and shrieking loudly. They were preparing to leave their summer homes here in the United Kingdom and begin their perilous and long flight to their winter home. The RSPB website tells us, "Our UK Swifts migrate through France and Spain to spend their winter in Africa, south of the Sahara, where they follow the rains to take advantage of rapid changes in insect populations. While many immature birds return to the breeding grounds in the spring, some will remain in Africa." It is not known exactly how long that Swifts live, some monitored birds have been at least 16 years, but the average is apparently around 6.
|Martin Ridley, Swifts, Summer Evenings |
His wildlife art on his website, Here:
Martin's post about the Swifts on his home, Here:
They make their homes in slits in tall buildings and their habitats are threatened by demolition and change. But there is hope. In several quarters people who love them are making a difference to their survival.
|Oxford University Natural History Museum|
from their website, Here:
You can read more about the Swifts that live at the museum on their website, and it offers a special treat - you can watch them nesting in the summer months on their webcam, but they will be gone now and to do this you will need to check back next April when they begin to return. Here:
And there is a follow up book by Roy Overall and Andrew Lack, son of David, they have monitored the Museum swifts every year since 1962.
Swifts are not technically related to our other summer visitors the House Martins and Swallows but you often see them all sharing the sky. They are different in one very significant way too, while the latter two are mostly country birds preferring cottages and farms Swifts are often found in towns, especially if they have tall buildings. But they also like a country setting too.
|Swift (lower left) and Martins and Swallow (upper right). |
Photo Credit BBC How to Identify each bird, Here:
Superstition surround these charcoal winged birds which to some resemble bats. Like many other black coloured birds they suffer prejudice. or me they bring joy and wonder. Because of their mysterious nature in the past people believed that many of these summer visitors actually hibernated in the winter and thought they did so in the mud of ponds.
|From the RSPB website page Help Save Swifts, Here:|
Their little faces are smaller than that of House Martins and Swallows, and they lack the quick glmpses of colour, the blue on the wings, the white on the little bodies, or that red on the throat of the Swallow. This lack of colour may seem sinister to some.
Their very nature makes them seem less friendly than house Martins and Swallows who build their nests upon our houses, or in barns and chatter sweetly amongst themselves. Their gossip is calming and soothing. In contrast the shrieking of Swifts can seen harsh, although I always think that they are making their noises in the sheer exhilaration of being able to fly so high, swop so low over meadows and lake at such speed.
|Swifts by Paul Robinson, 1923|
His website is Here:
|Photo from Action for Swifts, Here:|
Action For Swifts has been helping Swifts for many years. You can read all about Swifts, the work they do to help them, and what to do should you come across a grounded Swift on their excellent website, Here:
Yet many people remain totally unaware of their presence as often they fly so high in the skies that only their scimitar outline can be seen and their shrieking is faint. I find it amazing that so few people actually look up. What glories they miss there amongst the clouds.
|Art Deco enamelled Swift brooch, Pierre Bex, France|
You will find that Swallows and House Martins are much more often depicted in paintings, upon china or cast in jewels than the Swift. Every now and then I come across them or find words of inspiration written about them. I think the poem by Ted Hughes perfectly captures the feeling of magic in this painting below.
They’ve made it again,
Which means the globe’s still working, the Creation’s
Still waking refreshed, our summer’s
Still all to come
Ted Hughes ~
|Common Swifts by Bruno Liljefors, 1886|
His Wiki page, Here:
I love all of these summer visitors and await the arrival of them in our village each year. When it is time for them to leave I am always filled with a melancholy. Another summer has come to it's close. I never know how many of my winged friends will make the return journey the next year, or as life itself is fragile, if I will be here to welcome them home once more.
|Olde Isleworth by The Thames|
|Common Swift in palm by zerofilius|
on Deviant Art, Here:
|Swift by Jeffrey Fisher|
His website, Here:
Other places you can read more about these fascinating birds.
David Attenborough presents the Swift on Tweet of the Day.
Swift Conservation, their website is full of information. Here:
Royal Society of Preservation Birds (RSPB), Here: