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Expect a Swift arrival?..

The main arrival of Swifts in the UK is expected in the next few days…

The main arrival of Swifts in the UK is expected in the next few days. Their characteristic screaming around towns and cities is a familiar sound to many and a classic sign of summer.

Swifts spend the winter in Africa, south of the Sahara, mainly in the Congo Basin, Tanzania and from Malawi to the Cape. Around mid-April the first Swifts of the spring arrive back in Britain and Ireland and towards the end of the month there is a real ‘rush’ when huge numbers arrive over the space of a few days. This big arrival usually coincides with favourable weather conditions for migration across Western Europe. Light winds (ideally southerly) allow Swifts, and other migrant birds such as Cuckoos and Swallows to migrate successfully.

Information from BirdTrack http://www.BirdTrack.net shows that in 2004 and 2005, the main period of arrival was in the third week of April. We are asking birdwatchers to look out for Swifts in the next couple of weeks and to enter their sightings onto the specially designed website.

Swifts nest in cracks in buildings and under tiles. They lay 2-3 eggs and are single-brooded. Swifts do not normally start breeding until they are four years old. They are thought to be in long-term decline in Britain and Ireland, although they are a difficult species to monitor due to their nesting habits. Many traditional nesting holes have been lost to re-development. Homeowners can provide artificial nest holes (or bricks) to put on buildings.When your local Swift returns to its nest site it will be the first time it has stopped flying for eight months as Swifts spend the whole of the winter in Africa ‘on the wing’. In the evening they ascend to 600m or more and shut down half their brain! This unusual behaviour, together with its strange cry or scream, has given rise to an alternative name ‘the devil’s bird’. Since they are relatively long lived, they make the journey to Africa many times. Swifts typically live for around nine years but the longevity record in Britain and Ireland (based on ringing records) is 17 years and 11 months!

Birdwatchers can contribute to our understanding of the timing of arrival of migrants by contributing to BirdTrack http://www.BirdTrack.net, the online bird recording project – go to the website and click on ‘Register’. Records of all species, but particularly migrants are welcome.

Birdwatchers are encouraged to enter their birdwatching lists online to support species and site conservation at local, national and international scales. We need to gather a large number of lists at all times of the year. Complete lists (all species seen and heard) are preferred but incomplete lists and casual records will also help build our understanding of populations. Results produced by BirdTrack will help us to map the migration and movements of birds and monitor of scarce birds in Britain and Ireland.

NB. BirdTrack follows on from the successful Migration Watch project that looked at spring migration in 2002-2004. BirdTrack runs all-year and gathers information on spring and autumn migration.

For further information please contact:
Dawn Balmer, Graham Appleton or Martin Fowlie
BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU. Tel: 01842 750050 or 01842 766734 (evening - Dawn). BTO Press Mobile 07704 847935 E-mail: dawn.balmer@bto.org - graham.appleton@bto.org - martin.fowlie@bto.org

4th July 2014