Saturday 9 February 2013

New Swift Homes at Greenmount Farm, Antrim

Another excellent example, this time from Antrim, Northern Ireland, of how, with a little ingenuity, an existing colony can be saved when a building is renovated.

Contributed by Rodney Monteith

Just outside the town of Antrim in County Antrim lies Greenmount Campus, part of the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE). Within its grounds is a historic farm courtyard dating back to the mid 1800’s that has served both as a working farm building and a training area for the hundreds of agriculture students that have passed through during the past 100 years. Recently some renovation work was carried out to the building and I had the opportunity to examine some Swift nest sites under the slate roof that had been used for many years. 

Square nest site, 200mm x 200m
There has been a great deal of discussion regarding size of entrance hole and nest chamber dimensions so the measurements of the nest spaces are interesting.

Nesting under a slate roof the birds had used an area with a maximum head room of approximately 90mm and this tapered to zero at the front of the chamber due to the slope of the roof. The floor of one square chamber was 200mm x 200mm while the other was a triangle similarly 200mm x 200mm- so half the floor area.

Triangular nest site, 200mm x 200mm
Bearing in mind the slope of the roof the triangular nest site must have been very cramped but was used successfully for many years, and considering the recent discovery of Swifts nesting in House martin nests this obviously wasn’t a problem.

In February 2012 the old roof slates were removed and repairs were made before re-covering.

New nest sites

The timing of the renovation work was coordinated to reach completion before the breeding season and as part of the work the ”fill” on top of the wall was removed. This provided potential nest sites but with no access points for the birds. The original nests were in small sections where the fill was missing but the addition of a fascia board meant the original access points were blocked.

This problem was overcome by partially removing some of the overhanging bricks to provide a series of 30mm x100mm gaps for access to a total of 18 nest areas.

View from the ground showing entrances
Since several pairs of Swifts nest nearby it was not long before the new sites were discovered by prospecting birds, aided by the fact that 3 of the sites were quickly adopted by House Sparrows.

Three of the new sites were visited by Swifts and one that had reared House Sparrows had a pair of Swifts that used it from 24th June until 14th August 2012. Hopefully 2013 will see several of these new nest sites occupied successfully.

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