Thursday 1 September 2011

Encouraging Swifts in Oxfordshire

Contributed by Chris Mason

Our Swifts have gone for another year and I’m left to make plans for next summer and to reminisce about the positive things of the last few months. This year it has been not only the Swifts themselves that have inspired me. It had also been the time and trouble people take to look after their Swifts, and the lengths to which they will go to encourage them. Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about.

Two chicks ready to fledge

First of all there’s Richard who lives in Combe. A pair of Swifts took up residence at his home in 2000. They took over a small hole in the gable of his stone cottage which Starlings had just vacated and nested successfully. Encouraged by this, Richard began creating more cavities for Swifts in the gable end of his stone cottage. The numbers increased steadily, and by 2011 he had 10 nesting pairs, and one pair prospecting. He has made the nest spaces so that he can view the nests from his attic and this year an amazing 25 young Swifts have fledged from his home. The last two (pictured opposite in the nest space, just before fledging - perspex backing removed) left on August 20th.

7 or 8 years ago the Swifts in Ledwell, the Oxfordshire hamlet where Clive lives, were under threat from building work. A local friend and passionate campaigner for wildlife encouraged him to include boxes for Swifts in the house extension he was working on at the time. They visited the Natural History Museum in Oxford and using that as a guide, Clive designed nest boxes so that he could check on the birds without causing disturbance. He played a cd of Swift calls and attracted a pair Swifts in the first year. Clive now has 4 of these nest boxes. 3 have been used for nesting this year, from which 7 young fledged. The fourth box had a prospecting pair.

Clive went on to encourage his friend Pete who lives near Banbury to put up a Swift nest box, Pete put up not just one box, but several boxes of different designs in various situations around the house - under eaves and on walls. The Swifts chose a wooden box with a long overhanging roof shading the entrance, on the south-facing wall. He was disappointed that even after this success none of the other boxes was used, and so last winter he asked a stonemason friend to drill 2 holes in the stone wall near the box the Swifts were using. He put Schwegler cavity panels on the outside wall. This led through a 4 inch pipe into a home-made nest box behind, and this year a pair of Swifts successfully reared young in one of the new nest places.

Pete's nest box and the Schwegler panels on either side

Then there’s James who lives in Adderbury. He bought an old farm house a few years ago. It needed major repair and modernisation, but he had noticed that birds were nesting in a wall of the building. He didn’t know about Swifts but did his own research and concluded that the birds were Swifts. He also found out about declining Swift numbers and how dependent they are on traditional nest places. So on his own initiative, he completed the renovation work and then re-created a nest hole in exactly the same place that the Swifts had been using before. He was rewarded when the following year the Swifts returned, and have continued to nest at the farm.

Left: the gable of James's farmhouse where a pair of Swifts nest. Right: close up of the nest hole.

Conclusions? Well lots of happy families of course, and more evidence if it’s required that Swifts need, and will respond to, encouragement.

Chris Mason

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