Friday 15 November 2013

Fulbourn Community Swift Survey 2013

The Fulbourn Swifts housing development is one of the largest and most successful nest-boxing projects in the country

Contributed by John Willis

This was a very successful year for the Fulbourn Swifts Group and the fine weather helped to make it a great year for the local swifts as well.  Increased publicity enabled us to recruit new members for the survey and to significantly raise awareness about swifts in the village.  Our main focus was again on surveying swifts on the Swifts housing development, which is approaching completion, but also we were able to monitor the small colony located at St Vigor’s Church. In June a BBC crew filmed the survey team in action for an item on swifts in the regional television programme ‘Urban Jungle’.

The survey team pictured in front of the Fulbourn Life Wall
On the Swifts Development, an estate of 1960s system built houses, home to a large colony of swifts, has been demolished to be replaced by new homes with internal and external swift nest boxes. 

At the start of the swift season the third part (Phase 2a) of the Development had been completed and building work had commenced on the fourth and final part. One original block of five houses will remain after the completion of the redevelopment and these still provide nest sites for swifts. [You can read background information in Fulbourn Community Swift Survey 2012 and Swifts in Fulbourn, Cambridgeshire.]

In March we mounted a display at Fulbourn Community Market, followed by publishing an item in the Parish Council Newsletter and by distributing a flyer to all homes on the Swifts Development. The latter was particularly successful as we recruited several local residents, who participated in the survey, and during the season others telephoned or sent e-mails to report observations made from their own homes.

We met on site for the survey every Wednesday evening from the beginning of May to late August, but individuals made observations on many other evenings during the summer. There were usually between 5 and 10 observers, but numbers peaked at 17 to coincide with the presence of the BBC film crew!

Swifts moved into nest boxes on these newly completed houses’
Our first two swifts of the season were seen at the survey on 1 May and due to the cool weather the numbers were slow to pick up with double figures not being recorded until mid-month. 

The numbers flying overhead varied throughout June depending on the weather with a maximum of 30 being observed mid-month. Flying numbers improved significantly during the warm weather of July, presumably with a large influx of prospecting young birds.  

Peak numbers of 50+ were seen around mid-month with low level screaming parties of up to 20 birds providing a wonderful spectacle. In the first few days of August there were still around 30 birds flying overhead, but numbers dropped well into single figures within a week. The last low level screaming party was observed on 7 August. However, swifts were still feeding young in at least five nests up to mid-month and were still active at two sites on 21 August. The last swift of the season was seen on 28 August entering a nest site in a block of old houses, which is due for demolition.

At the start of the season there were 227 swift nest boxes on site – 139 internal and 88 external – and it was a significant challenge for us to successfully monitor all of these, as is demonstrated by our observation on 7 August of an adult swift feeding young in a box where we had not noticed any activity before!

This year, swifts were observed using 66 out of 139 internal nest boxes, 9 out of 88 external nest boxes and 5 sites in the remaining old block – 80 sites in total. We estimate that there were 58 potential breeding pairs – 51 in internal boxes, 3 in external boxes and 4 in the old block. In 2012 we saw 51 locations in use and we estimated that there were 32 breeding pairs, so it appears that 2013 was a great year for Fulbourn swifts and the outlook for the colony looks very bright!

A young swift viewing the Fulbourn streetscape in mid-July
In the hot weather of mid-July we observed several young swifts at nest box entrance holes, and around this time two young swifts were found out of the nest at different locations and were taken to Judith Wakelam, who successfully raised them to fledging. One of these had even survived being picked up by a cat!

Over the last few years swifts have colonised each of the areas of new development in turn usually after a delay of one season for prospecting, but this year a few pairs moved into nest boxes in houses that had been built over the winter.

The major preference was again for the internal boxes although we saw one additional breeding pair using the external Schwegler boxes this year with prospectors in another 6, which is encouraging for next year. We have previously noted the presence of starlings in some Schwegler boxes but we have not observed any direct interaction between starlings and swifts. Last year we reported attempts to make these boxes less attractive to starlings (you can read background information at Fulbourn update) and they successfully nested in at least one of these modified boxes in 2013.

Swifts started using these unusually located boxes this year
Most of the internal boxes in the earlier phases of the new housing development are located high up on the gable ends of either two storey houses or three storey flats and many of these are already occupied by breeding pairs, so it was interesting to observe swifts this year using a set of three boxes located just behind a lamp post on the gable end of a single storey house (see picture). The nest box entrances are around 4.5m above ground level. Young swifts were raised in the left hand box (we heard them up to 21 August) and the middle box was also used by swifts over a period of weeks during which time a sparrow also showed interest! Residents have reported sightings of sparrows regularly using some of the internal swift nest boxes.

This sparrow was visiting a box being used by swifts!
As mentioned above, we monitored the small swift colony at St Vigor’s Church where four nest sites were used for the third year running. Activity around the Churchyard reached a peak in mid-July with some wonderful flying displays of over 20 birds right in the heart of the village. The group flying here are supplemented by birds from the nearby small colony on the Old Manor House, which was not monitored this year.
Over the last two years 30 swift nest boxes have been installed on houses in various areas of the village away from the new housing development and we remain optimistic of recording our first use of any of these in 2014.

The builders are now working well into the last phase of the Swifts Development so by the start of the new swift season there could be up to 50 additional swift boxes available on site for us to monitor. In spring 2014 we intend to survey breeding starlings in the external boxes to increase our understanding of the potential for impact on swifts attempting to breed in them.

We will continue with our publicity within the village to maintain awareness of the project and to ensure that we have good participation in the 2014 survey. If any Fulbourn residents reading this would be interested in putting up a nest box or taking part in the 2014 survey, then please contact us at 

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