Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Swift Boxes at St John's College, Cambridge

Written by Dick Newell
Rowena Baxter regularly waits for the Park and Ride bus outside St John's College, Cambridge, and being an observant birder, she could not fail to notice the decline in Swifts in recent years, so she arranged for us to explore opportunities for Swift nest-boxes somewhere on the site together with Dr R. E. McConnel, a college fellow, and Steve Beeby, Superintendent of Buildings.
To quote from their website: "St John's College is one of the oldest and largest colleges in Cambridge. Former students include famous business and political leaders, as well as renowned scientists and artists. It's an inspiring place to study, or even just to visit."
For a college that was founded in 1511, one couldn't exactly go hanging Schwegler swift boxes around the buildings, so we cast our sights on the chapel tower.

St John's College Chapel

8 nest-boxes in 4 cabinets
By the standards of any normal church, this is an enormous tower, with huge louvres, but the space where one might expect bells is empty, a disused dusty cavern with openings to the outside world. The top of the tower looks down on the Round Church and gives an evocative view of Kings College Chapel to the south.

There are 3 sets of louvres on each of the 4 sides of the tower, with openings behind 'bird proof' mesh at floor level. It was decided to place 4 2-box cabinets behind the openings on the west side.

Permission was granted by the dons and other college authorities.

Bob Tonks designed, built and installed the boxes. A Box of Swifts, driving two speakers, is barely audible at ground level. Should we succeed in attracting Swifts into these boxes, there is plenty of opportunity for expansion.
One nest-box cabinet with, with back removed, showing concave
nest platforms feathered by the pupils of Fulbourn primary school.
A swift's eye view of The Round Church
taken from the tower of St John's Chapel

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