Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Je suis un martinet est arrivé!

Front cover (click to enlarge)

We are delighted that our booklet for children, 'I am a Swift - I am in trouble' by Helen Hodgson has been adapted and translated into French. 

This initiative was undertaken by Carolyn Knowlman, who writes:

Chateau Amboise
The background photo of the screamers is the Chateau Amboise in the Loire valley, where, as elsewhere, we realised that swift nest sites were being lost as the town gets poshed up and new buildings are unsuitable. 

The group got off to a great start with a very well attended meeting with Marcel Jacquat & Edward Mayer speaking. We are very appreciative of their help. 

So far this year the group has put up around 50 boxes in and around the town.The Mairie (town council) has got involved and put up boxes too. Next year the aim is to do more with local schools.

The booklets are available by contacting Carolyn via email at
The suggested donation price is €2 Or £1.50 Plus p&p.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Another flat-topped roof installation in Tel Aviv

This is another useful case study showing how to add a large number of nestboxes to a protected building, without compromising its appearance. It is the same concept as this project. There must be many flat-topped buildings where this idea could be implemented. It is unobtrusive and access is straight forward should any maintenance be needed. Swifts can be slow to occupy the middle boxes in a row of regularly space boxes, but in this case, the aesthetics required a symmetric arrangement. The Swifts will figure it out eventually.

Amnonn Hahn writes:

The project objective was to build a large Swift Colony. At 15 meters long, it contains 36 nesting chambers. It was installed on the first building in the area long before the City of Tel Aviv was founded. It was built in 1856 by UK Jews who bought an area of 20 acres to serve as the 1st Agricultural Study Centre. It was called "The Farm House".

The Ottoman Empire used it as a "Watch Station" to control the passage between the port of Jaffa and Nablus. The British Army had stationed one of its units there after WW1. The area was sold to the founder of the Israeli Electrical Company (IEC) Mr. David Rothenberg who built the 1st Electrical Power Station in that era. IEC became one of Israel’s largest & strongest companies. In 1968 IEC decided to move the centre of its Board of Directors into this building and it became the first conserved building of Tel Aviv.

The area is right in the centre of Tel Aviv with houses over 100 years old being conserved under the supervision of the City Conservation Dept.

The project was implemented in cooperation with the City Conservation Dept who supported the idea of installing the "Swift Colony" on this "Farm House". They officially approved the Swift Colony design.

The project was also achieved in cooperation with IEC, The Society for Protection of Nature in Israel and The Hoopoe Foundation.

"And the rest is history".

36 boxes neatly installed

36 boxes ready for installation

Before installing the 'sunroof'
Detail of the 'sunroof'

A tweeter built in to one of the nest boxes.

The detail, left, is a 'starling baffle', designed to deter the invasive Vinous-breasted Starling

Everything is ready for the opening ceremony.


Friday, 4 March 2016

Beijing Swifts in Chinese Media

One of the intended consequences of the Beijing Swift Project was to further raise awareness of nature in general and Swifts in particular in China.

In the February 2016 edition of the Chinese outdoor magazine "Forest and Humankind", Beijing Swifts make it onto the front cover and are the main story!

Front cover
The article is about the Swift's lifestyle with the migration as part of the story.

We include scans of the front page, with an accomplished painting of Swifts, and a rather nice map highlighting all of the countries visited by Swifts on their epic journey from Beijing to southwest Africa.

You can also read previous posts about the Beijing Swift Project

Schematic map showing the route from Beijing to southwest Africa
and back, including all of the countries visited highlighted in green.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

New Swift tower in Poland

We have been sent pictures of an innovative Swift Tower in Poland designed by Warsaw architect Marcin Grabarczyk, in one of Warsaw's most beautiful parks situated near the Vistula River: Kamionkowskie Błonia Elekcyjne Park. Structural engineering was by Krzysztof Drzazga.

These towers are the result of a design competition organised by STOP, the Warsaw Society for the Protection of Birds on behalf of the City of Warsaw in 2012. The project was completed in January 2016. Two steel towers, 7.94 metres high, each contain 32 nest boxes on the north and east facing sides, with solar panels for attraction calls on the sunny side. The nest boxes are made of wood impregnated with linseed oil.

The plan is to build more towers in Warsaw,  as, in many other places, Swifts are losing their nest sites due to building renovations and insulation.

All of the pictures below are by Marcin Grabarczyk (click on them to enlarge)

The towers on a cold winter's day with the education board beneath

The towers stand at the top of a slope leading down to the water
Solar panels on the backs of the towers

Closer view showing circular entrances

Friday, 26 February 2016

First deployment of Model 30 Swift boxes

Since 2008 John Stimpson has made and sold nearly 7000 Zeist Swift boxes. The Zeist design is suitable for positioning under broad eaves. In exposed positions, with its flat roof, it would allow predators to perch and, made of plywood, will not last if exposed to sun and rain. Thus, we have provided him with a design suitable for a wider range of situations. John is now also supplying boxes made to this design.

The new model is called the 'Model 30' - as all angles in it are 30°. It has borrowed an idea from Maurice Wilkinson, who made his DIY Swift boxes out of PVC, commonly used for fascia boards. With its double thickness PVC/plywood roof (21mm of material in total), with a slippery white reflective surface,  the Model 30 should make life difficult for predators and it reflects sunlight.

The design is available as a flatpack, so it makes an ideal gift. All it requires is a cross head screw driver to insert the 14 screws needed to hold it together.

We are now making our first deployments of these boxes in more exposed positions.

John Stimpson contact details: 

The first 4 Model 30 boxes installed on an exposed gable end in Fulbourn, Cambs

Model 30 as a flatpack

2 boxes assembled

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Maidenhead, Marlow and Cookham Swift Group

Another heartening example of a local initiative to provide more accommodation for Swifts.

by Jan Stannard

This month has seen the start of our area’s Swift box initiative, with the first boxes made locally by volunteers, along with attraction call systems, bought as components and assembled. So far we have agreement for about 40 sites to install boxes.

These are mostly families with suitable houses in areas where we know there are existing Swift breeding sites. These are clustered in streets within the three towns so that they should form ‘loose colonies’. We have already surveyed every single location to make sure it is suitable for swifts in terms of flight path, predator access, aspect and overall height.

On residents’ houses we are installing external boxes because people regard internal boxes as too difficult and too costly to put into their houses. The design is based on Mark Glanville’s twin design, and are sold at cost price (£25 for a twin box). 
Mark Glanville's twin compartment box
WoodStone® Swift Nest Box
In some locations, for example where a cherry picker will be used, we have recommended Woodcrete swift boxes from CJ Wildlife for extra durability.

The property owners have readily agreed to have a sound system, which we are providing ready to use at a cost of £26 (cost price). This comprises a mini amplifier, a tweeter, an SD card with swift calls, a power supply and a suitable length of audio cable (see here).

In addition to domestic properties, we have persuaded the clergy and wardens of two local churches to put in 4-6 boxes in their towers. 

Lastly, we have two new large colony installations: Swift House by McCarthy & Stone (28 internal boxes) and Premier Inn Maidenhead (20 internal boxes).

In total, there will at least 120 swift nesting places if all goes to plan.

The Maidenhead, Marlow and Cookham Swift Group was founded in July 2015 and now has 80 members.

Our website [], 
Facebook page: here.
Installing 2 double boxes

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Swift Nestboxing in Tashkent

We report regularly on the activities of our friends, Elena and Pavel, in Tashkent (Uzbekistan}, for they do so much, not only in the field of rehabilitation, but generally to raise the profile of wildlife conservation in their city and country. To this end, they decided to take part in a nestbox scheme in the city - nestboxes, especially external ones, are highly visible and make a public statement.

A local building firm, Murad Building Company, had already produced nestboxes for various species as part of a local conservation initiative. Elena and Pavel had a meeting with Murad and proposed that they should add a Swift nestbox to their suite of boxes. 

Of course, this was virgin territory for everyone, and we were happy to provide information on materials, design and construction for an external Swift box. The key points were to ensure that the boxes were proof against sun and rain, and that the optimum size should be floor area roughly 17cm x 30cm, height, 15cm.

As to materials, we all held our breath, but the results are spectacular. The boxes have now been delivered by Murad. They are made from good quality planed timber and of a thickness that gives them good insulation.

After a couple of false starts, Murad came up with the goods. They produced a 100 boxes in quick time!

The next step is the mounting of this first batch of completed boxes. Elena and Pavel met with Roman Kashkarov of the UzSPB, and got agreement for boxes to be placed on the UzSPB building, which is high and suitable for Swifts. This will be done ceremonially as part of the Society's "Common Swift Year 2016".

Their next step is to find as many local people as possible who would like to have Swift nestboxes on their property.

What is really heartening about all this is the recognition that our friends are getting for their work. They are now in the process of constituting themselves formally as the Centre for the Rehabilitation of Wild Birds in Uzbekistan, and have an application in to the GEF Small Grants Programme, which was established in 1992, the year of the Rio Earth Summit. 

Elena and Pavel, we wish you well!

Saturday, 6 February 2016

More swift boxes in Milton, Cambs

We already reported on Clarke Brunt's Swift boxes, where he had 6 breeding pairs of Swifts in 2015. Our recent successes with installing internal nest boxes in roof spaces convinced Clarke that he could do the same. Although there are no new ideas here, this is another example of a well executed installation.

by Dick

The location is perfect, right on Milton High Street and opposite the Lion & Lamb public house, where people sit out on summer evenings. The Lion & Lamb can expect increased custom from Swift nuts this summer and all future summers!

The project is very similar to what we did in Newnham. Again it was a Victorian solid wall, where removing a header was an easy way of making a hole through the wall. The same cast moulded concrete inserts were used for the entrances.

This time the boxes were made with hinged doors on the back, but were constructed so that these can easily be replaced with perspex backs if so desired.

This project was implemented by Bill Murrells and Clarke himself, with a bit of help from me.

The following pictures are self explanatory.
The view from the Lion & Lamb
3 entrances on the right hand side
Detail of a single entrance
6 boxes neatly installed
3 boxes on left side of gable
Close up of a single box


Friday, 5 February 2016

Swift nest box 1908-09 style

The February 2016 issue of British Birds magazine contains a fascinating letter by Richard Porter and Graham Madge about the value of nestboxes to bird conservation (Brit. Birds February 2016).

by Dick Newell

The letter references a leaflet published by the RSPB over 100 years ago, in 1908/09, which includes nest box designs for the usual tits, woodpeckers, flycatchers, and Wrynecks (now extinct in the UK) and also a very nice looking design for  Swifts!

Swift box cropped from the leaflet below

In those days, you could buy a Swift box for 2 shillings (10p then, £10.75 in todays money).

Recorded bird calls had not been invented then, so one wonders what success rate they had with these boxes.

The BB article asks the question whether nest boxes have had any conservation impact on various species? The 3% per annum decline on a Swift population of 87,000 pairs (in 2009) (Musgove et al 2012) could mean that ~2600 pairs of Swifts are being lost each year. As the 87,000 is almost certainly an underestimate, and given likely occupancy rates, then 3 or 4 times 2600 nest boxes may be needed just to stand still.

If the mass house-builders get on board with the idea of incorporating nestboxes in every suitable gable end, then this should be doable.

The inspiring RSPB leaflet, published in Bird Notes and News 1908/09 is here:

Musgrove A., Aebischer N., Eaton M., Hearn R., Newson S., Noble D., Parsons M., Risely K. and Stroud D. 2012.
Population estimates of birds in Great Britain and the United Kingdom. British Birds 106 * February 2013 * 64-100
Porter R.F. and Madge, G.  2016. Boxing Clever: the value of nestboxes to bird conservation Brit. Birds, Letters, 109: 122

Friday, 29 January 2016

Circular entrance inserts

We have been quite successful in retrofitting half brick-sized entrance inserts in brick walls, either by removing a header from a solid wall (here), or cutting an entrance in a cavity wall (here). We here present an idea more suited for inserting in a rendered cavity wall comprising building blocks.

by Dick

The mould is made out of a 50mm piece of a pipe 102.5mm
internal diameter. The entrance formers are 3D printed.
Builders are accustomed to making circular holes in walls to fit such things as ventilation grills and extractor fans. So this idea may be preferred by some builders, even in brick outer walls.

Michael Osborne did something similar here.

We have used the same 3D-printed former that we used for the half brick entrances, but this time we made a mould out of a piece of 4 inch pipe.

The internal box could either be embedded in the inner wall or inside the inner wall, typically in a roof space, accessed via a pipe.

Although we have not used this idea on a real project yet, we thought it worth sharing.

Computer generated pictures below:

Outside view of insert

In this case, the nest box (back removed) is inside the roof-space  .
Alternatively the nestbox could be embedded in the inner wall, spanning the cavity.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Swifts and traditional nest sites in Anglican churches

This is an appeal for records of Swifts nesting in churches in Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire

by Chris Mason

St Nicholas, Islip, one of the many Oxfordshire churches
which formerly had nesting Swifts
50 years ago most of our local parish churches had nesting Swifts.

Now in my part of the country (North Oxfordshire) I reckon it’s roughly one church in seven, and even those will eventually disappear as essential repairs and maintenance work are carried out; or rather they would have disappeared. But this is now much less likely as a result of an agreement reached with representatives of the Oxford Diocese (Berks, Bucks and Oxon).

Holy Trinity, Shenington,
where Swifts still nest under the eaves
The agreement is that if planned repairs will affect traditional nest sites, the sites will be left intact if possible, and if that can’t be done efforts will be made to create alternatives.
Also in appropriate cases the Diocese will look
favourably at proposals to include Swifts bricks when major renovations are being undertaken, and at the idea of nest boxes behind louvred windows.

Major renovations are already planned for the church in Cropredy (below left) where Swifts still nest in a wall of the tower and we expect the church will benefit from the new agreement. Swifts have also nested for many years at the church in Kidlington (below right). We hope the same will apply when the roof there is eventually repaired.

St Mary the Virgin, Copredy (left) and St Mary's, Kidlington (right)
However all this is dependent on one thing – knowing which churches in these counties are being used by Swifts.  At present I only have information about parts of Oxfordshire.

So this is a plea to anyone visiting or watching in any of these counties to note and report any Swift activity around Anglican churches; also if anyone already knows of a church in these counties which has recently had nesting Swifts please would they report as below:

Any reports for Berkshire please inform Jan Stannard
Any reports for Oxfordshire please inform me: Chris Mason
Any reports for Bucks please inform me for the time being. At present there is no one in the Swifts Local Network based in Bucks. I am working on that.

Parties of Swifts wheeling and screaming around village church towers and steeples are one of the glorious sights and sounds of an English summer. I hope we can keep it that way.