Friday 16 December 2011

Great Shelford Swift Belfry

This is another triumph for Rob Mungovan, ecology officer with South Cambridgeshire District Council

He has this to say: "Here is the recently restored school building in Great Shelford.  There were swifts nesting under part of the end wall. That aspect of the building could not be entirely retained but Hill Residential were happy to adapt the bell tower to provide for swifts and bats (as well as putting up other swift boxes).

The historic building people are happy with the look and the fact that we now have a restored landmark building, and I'm happy that we've provided for swifts and bats. This is a great outcome. We'll have to wait for next summer to see if it works."

There is a total of 20 nest-boxes for Swifts in the belfry, 12 in the lower level and 8 in the upper level.

A closer view showing some of the Swift entrances.

Here are the Swift boxes at the top and bottom of the bell tower.
This is the partially completed bat roost.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

A-frame Swift Tower

Contributed by Bob Tonks and Dick Newell

This is an idea borrowed from the Barn Owl A-frame, a very successful, well tried design for owls (Little, Tawny and Barn), Kestrel, Stock Dove, Jackdaw and even squirrels and cats.

It accommodates 6 pairs of Swifts. The whole thing can be assembled on the ground, then hoisted into position on a pole or wall. With the double roof it is well insulated from the sun, the front is easily removed for maintenance purposes.

Click for large picture
The front is an equilateral triangle with side 825mm. The depth of each nesting chamber is 425mm. The supporting strut below is as much there for aesthetic effect as it is to support the A-frame.

It is best not to orientate this box directly south, unless an extra thick front is provided. A smooth metal sleeve around the pole is also a good idea to deter rats and squirrels.

More pictures:

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Idea for a Swift Tower

Contributed by Dick

This is an idea for a a swift tower which is intended to be relatively inexpensive and that hopefully can be erected by a group of competent amateurs without the use of cranes or cherry-pickers - but you are responsible for abiding by your local health and safety regulations. It is a modular design for ease of assembly. If you feel inspired to erect something like this, then please get in touch to discuss options.

Click for large picture
This is what it looks like from below. It contains 18 nesting places, 12 in the louvred cabinets and 6 in the roof. Access for maintenance to all nest-boxes can be achieved by removing any of the louvres or the gable ends. The materials are 12mm marine ply, 200mm x 25mm rough-sawn treated timber. 175mm wide feather-boarding, and 4 x 2 inch timbers. The dimensions quoted below are for guidance.

Assembly instructions:

Saturday 26 November 2011

A Swift game from Devon

Here is some fun for kids of any age - thanks to the Devon Wildlife Trust. It is educational and informative too!

Sunday 6 November 2011

Decay of a Swift nest

Contributed by Dick

People often ask whether it is necessary to clear out a Swift nest-box at the end of the season. This video shows that it is not necessary, as a thriving population of invertebrates will do it for you.

Between 14th August, after the 2nd chick fledged, and 6th November, the video shows one second per day. It is remarkable how much the bugs disturb the nest every day, reducing it from a beautiful feathered construction to a pile of detritus.

Saturday 8 October 2011

Swifts in Fulbourn, Cambridgeshire

Contributed by John Willis

Our project began in January 2011 when Rob Mungovan, the South Cambridgeshire District Council Ecology Officer, gave a very interesting talk to Fulbourn Forum on the work that was being undertaken to maintain a swift colony during the redevelopment of the Windmill Estate in Fulbourn. 

St Vigor’s Church: swifts nested above the clerestory windows
This colony is being monitored by professional ecologists during the redevelopment but there was little information available on numbers of swifts elsewhere in the village, so we were inspired to set up a small survey group for the 2011 season.

There was good general awareness about swifts in the village because of the size of the above colony (72 active nests in 2009) and the publicity generated by a feature in the BBC programme Inside Out East, broadcast in October 2009. The new housing development is called The Swifts and the name is also used for the new Parish rooms where the Community Library is based.

Many people were aware that in previous years swifts had frequented the area around St Vigor’s Church and the Old Manor House, which is a few hundred yards away to the east.

Friday 16 September 2011

Cambridge AfS End of Year Report 2011

This report describes what we in Cambridgeshire have been up to this year. The Cambs team includes Jake Allsop, Guy Belcher, Helen Hodgson, Bill Murrells, Dick Newell and Bob Tonks

To say the least, we have been busy. We have progressed projects started in previous years, we have been involved in new projects, some of them spectacular and we have done a number of innovative things, including this blog.

Nest-box progress

Swift sculpture at Edgecombe
In 2010, we helped Cambridge City Council install 71 nest-boxes on Edgecombe flats. Resident, Peter Glass, used his CD player on his balcony, and succeeded in attracting Swifts to the area. In 2011 we provided “A Box of Swifts” to Peter, with the speaker attached to one of the Zeist boxes, with the result that Swifts were seen entering all 4 boxes next to his flat. Edgecombe flats promises to be a substantial Swift colony. The opening of the project was celebrated with this sculpture.

At Ekin flats, Cambridge, we advised the City Council roofing contractors how to avoid disturbing 3 existing nest sites in summer 2010; all 3 nests were again occupied in 2011. An additional 12 nest sites created by the roofing contractors are yet to be occupied.

At Birdlife International headquarters in Girton, a single pair of Swifts returned to breed in 1 of the 8 boxes installed in 2010. CD playing has been well supervised by Trish Aspinall.

Article in Cambridge News 20/7/2011
click image to enlarge

At Milton Road Primary School, the pair of Swifts that occupied one of the boxes in 2010 returned to breed. Fortunately, we had installed a CCTV camera, so the children could see the nesting Swifts on a TV screen in their library. After more CD playing, Swifts were seen entering all 4 boxes. We ran another workshop where all of the children made Swift mobiles, and we also added 2 more nest-boxes bringing the total to 6. The project featured in the local newspaper, the Cambridge News, in July.

Nest-boxes installed on people's houses in previous years included Bob’s house in Milton, where boxes were first installed in 2008, first occupants in 2009, first breeding in 2010, and probably two more boxes occupied in 2011. Bob has had this success as a result of dedicated CD playing. [we also discovered another house in Milton where Clarke Brunt succeeded in achieving an occupied nest-box for the first time after several years of CD playing].

Bob and Mary Osborne in Histon used “A Box of Swifts” to acquire their first occupants in boxes installed in 2009.

Bob Humphrey in Landbeach had his first occupants in a Pipe Box, in his 3rd summer of CD playing, and Neil Roberts, also of Landbeach, had his first occupants in a 4-Box Cabinet in his second year, with virtually no CD playing!

Dick's colony, also in Landbeach, increased from 6 to 7 breeding pairs. One bird was caught leaving the nest, then fitted with a geolocator by the BTO. The Landbeach Swift population has increased from 2 or 3 pairs to 11 or 12 pairs as a result of new nest-boxes.

After building work disrupted Swifts breeding in the eaves of St Andrews, Oakington, we installed “A Box of Swifts” in the belfry for a whole month. The Swifts responded well, and although we did not attract them into the 8 nest-boxes there, a pair of Swifts did nest in a small space outside of the louvres near the speaker.

At St Mary the Virgin, St Neots, where one pair occupied one of the 12 boxes last year, David Gill installed a new CD player, and he believes there may be two pairs this year.

At All Saints, Worlington in Suffolk, there was an increase from 1 breeding pair in 2010 with a second occupied box in 2011. CD playing has been well organised here by Judith Wakelam and Don Macbean. With 17 boxes in the belfry, the future looks bright.

At St Mary's Church Ely, where Bill inspired the first nest-boxes in 2007, this year, 26 boxes contained substantial nests, 13 of these contained 16 chicks, 2 contained eggs, so, there were at least 15 breeding pairs and 11 other occupied boxes. St Mary's is a great success despite no CD playing there. The evening Swift spectacle is well worth a visit.

Quite a few other projects are still waiting for their first occupants, despite well organised CD playing at some of them

New projects

The Cambridge Swift Tower
inspired by the African setting sun
The most sensational new project of 2011 was the Cambridge City Council Swift Tower, a piece of urban art, accommodating 100 Swift boxes and 10 bat boxes. At the opening event in July, the solar-power charged ‘bird scarer’ inspired a flypast by a squadron of 14 Swifts as the Mayor was starting his speech. Swifts were frequently seen around the tower, so signs are good for the future. Cambridge City Council, under the leadership of Guy Belcher, is doing an excellent job implementing projects for Swifts around the city.

As part of the Swift Tower project we ran a workshop with the children at Shirley Primary School, in which they made nest concaves out of Modroc and assembled Swift mobiles. They all received a copy of “I am a Swift - I am in Trouble”.

Other school projects included Newnham Croft, where we ran a workshop and installed 4 nest-boxes; and Elsworth Primary School, where we joined an eco-day and gave a presentation about Swifts to the whole school as well as running a workshop making a Swift mobile with a group of 12 children.

We worked with Anthony Clay to install 8 nest-boxes in the belfry of St Mary, Longstowe. CD playing was well organised, but there was no evidence of occupancy.

Further afield, we advised Carol Collins and Alan Wilkins in their project to install 10 Swift-boxes in the belfry of St Luke’s, Kinoulton, Nottinghamshire, which resulted in one pair of breeding Swifts in this first year.

Not least in our nest boxing campaign is the success of John Stimpson's sales of Zeist Swift boxes, made to our specification. John has now sold over 2000 Swift boxes. The same design has inspired Filcris to make a robust, waterproof box out of recycled plastic. Bob has now delivered over 40 4-box cabinets, mostly deployed in the Cambridge area.

Other activities included manning a stall at village fetes and a street party to celebrate the royal wedding in April. We responded to a large number of enquiries by people wanting to put up Swift nest-boxes; many more swift-boxes have been installed as a result.


Knowing early in the year that we would be involved with children in schools, we set about finding ideas for children. These include the small book, conceived by Helen, titled “I am a Swift - I am in trouble”. We handed out about 300 of these, but we still have a few left for those who want them (price £1.50).

We devised a method of making nesting concaves out of Modroc. Some children stuck feathers onto nest-concaves. This involved autoclaving 10 kilos of pheasant feathers. We chose pheasant feathers so that we could easily recognise feathers that the Swifts might add - typically pigeon feathers.

We came up with a prototype Swift mobile design, which, with the use of some CAD (Computer-aided Design) software, was turned into a production design.

We also produced an attractive AfS polo shirt, using the AfS logo (Available from Jake at £15).

One of the main barriers to success in attracting Swifts is the hassle of installing and playing Swift calls. As a result, John Clamp, of Newnham Croft PTA, developed a small solid state player which drives a “tweeter” speaker. This kit, which we call  “A Box of Swifts”, has been successful in getting Swifts to occupy nest sites in 3 places this year.

An exciting project with which we were involved in 2010 was the deployment of geolocators on Swifts by the BTO, resulting in a massive increase in knowledge of where Swifts spend their time in Africa, where they linger and where they might be getting into trouble.

Our last innovation has been this blog, which started in February 2011 and has now had over 10,000 pageviews, so we hope people are finding it useful. We will continue to accumulate ideas and experiences which can be used by others who wish to help Swifts.

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.

Monday 22 August 2011

How long do Swifts live?

Contributed by Dick

This question is often asked, and one answer is that the oldest known Swift was 21 years old. We know this, because the bird was ringed as a chick in Switzerland and recovered still alive. Just how many Swifts get to 21 years old? For that we need an estimate of survival rate, which Perrins 1971 gives as 83%. In the chart below, you can see what percentage of Swifts there are in the population at each age. For example, ~8% are 5 years old. Swifts that get to 21 and beyond make up 2.4% of the population.
Swift population structure

Friday 29 July 2011

A Swift's last 3 hours in the nest

Contributed by Dick

The first Swift fledged early in the morning of 28th July. So, I left the camera running for 3 hours in the hope of capturing the 2nd chick leaving. This is the result showing the last feed by the parent Swift with geolocator, a cameo appearance by a flatfly Crataerina pallida, the Swift's last exercises, and finally leaving. We were in the garden outside having lunch, and witnessed its first flight - magic!

Monday 25 July 2011

Swift behaviour with geolocator

Contributed by Dick

Swifts are declining, and one of the reasons could be something happening on their migration or in winter quarters on top of the loss of nest-sites. The advent of light-sensitive geolocators has provided great potential to fill in the gaps of where they go, and where they linger when they leave our shores.

There is bound to be apprehension at fitting anything to a small bird, particularly a Swift with its extreme fitness requirements, however, return rates of birds in previous years are no worse than one would expect from normal mortality, especially for birds caught leaving the nest, rather than birds caught on the nest.

On 21st July, one Swift was caught leaving my camera box, and fitted with a geolocator by Chris Hewson and Phil Atkinson from the BTO. That night, and since, the bird returned to the nest-box. Here is some video:

Friday 8 July 2011

Nest site visit frequency - preliminary results

Contributed by Dick

Most days this summer, I have a CCTV camera, with motion detection software, watching 5 occupied boxes, running from 4 in the morning until 10 at night (British Summer Time = GMT+1). I have now analysed some of the data to see how number of visits varies during each hour of the day and with date. I am posting this now, before all of the data is in, as it might be useful for people surveying colonies for occupied nest-sites [You can click on the charts to make them larger]:

If the results from my nest-boxes are typical, then it would seem that the periods 0700-0800, 1100-1400, 1700-1800 and after 1900 are the most productive times for birds seen entering a nest site. The hour between 1800 and 1900 is particularly slow.

The average visits per day per nest-box from this data set is 13 (min 8, max 22)

Sunday 3 July 2011

School Project in Israel

We asked Amnonn Hahn if he could tell us about one of his projects at the Gavrieli Harkamel School in Tel Aviv:

This is an example of spotting an opportunity in an otherwise unlikely location for Swift nest-boxes.

It also shows what can be done in a hot climate, where defending the nest-boxes from the sun can be a real challenge.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Preservation of Swift nests after a Roof Renovation

We heard from Su Gough, BTO training Officer, of her success in preserving Swift nest sites in her roof after a renovation project. It shows what can be done with a little thought and a cooperative roofing contractor:

The circle indicates an occupied nest entrance
Just thought I’d let you know, as I feel this does have relevance to Swift conservation, especially as it means birds can be maintained with minimal effort/cost – but mainly because I am extremely chuffed that Swifts have returned, even after work was completed.

We own a very old end of a terrace in Thetford, Norfolk tiled with pantiles. The existing roof has had numerous Swift nests, under tiles, between tiles and the remains of the felt for years. Old felt had been mostly shredded by generations of Swifts BUT in their defence we believe the felt was from c. 1920s and in many places was turning to ''compost'' as it rotted, so we don't think the Swifts were the prime cause of the felt failing. The roof was failing and failed completely last winter, forcing me to get the felt replaced and tiles re-laid, despite my fear that I may lose the Swifts. The new 'felt' is much thicker and of a different make.

After many hours researching various options to allow the Swifts back after work completed, and discussing with roofers all options we realised that none of the commercially available boxes/tiles/bricks etc would work on my property so the roofers (with advice from AfS members) decided that the best course of action was to raise the corners of some tiles when relaying, to allow the Swifts to go straight back in to the same locations as they were previously. This was just enough to allow the birds in, whilst in no way compromising the weather-proofness of the roof.

I am extremely pleased that the Swifts have happily accepted this arrangement and, indeed, as the roofers left quite a few tiles raised, I think we actually have more nests than in previous years.

Tiles wedged up to allow swifts in
I have to say how understanding the roofers (SK Roofers, Lakenheath) were, even though it meant the finished roof wasn’t as neat and tidy looking as, perhaps, they would have wanted.

The work was completed in Jan (ouch!) in order to avoid disturbance to the Swifts and House Sparrows (we also insisted they left the net out of the eaves, Sparrows spent 3 days on the cherry tree in great distress, but were re-lining their nests within 2 hours of roofers leaving...)

Saturday 18 June 2011

A Box of Swifts

Contributed by Dick Newell and John Clamp

Speaker, power supply and Box of Swifts

We are currently testing a small number of prototype Swift call players, built out of standard, low cost electronic components, including amplifier chips. The result, called "A Box of Swifts" is a simple to use, no hassle device with a power supply in (anything between 6 and 12 volts) and a single wire out to drive a small, quality speaker.
When power is switched on, A Box of Swifts starts playing for an indefinite period of time, until the power is switched off, so controlling it with a low cost timer is easy.

Sunday 12 June 2011

Nicely Designed Swift Cabinet

These pictures were sent to us by Darren Frost. They demonstrate how nice a Swift Cabinet can look on a semi-detached house.

The boxes are made of 12mm marine ply and there are nest concaves in all compartments. There is a gap between the box and the wall for bats.

Darren has already got Swifts interested in these boxes, so, if he keeps going with his CD, he has every chance of new occupants this year.

It is important that Swift boxes do not spoil the appearance of a nice house, and painting the boxes to match goes a long way to achieve this.

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Cambridge Swift Tower "Bird Scarer"

Contributed by Guy Belcher

As there is no mains power anywhere near the Swift Tower, we have decided to use a Bird Scarer, programmed with Swift attraction calls, powered by a 12 volt battery, recharged by a solar panel.

The system was configured by Martley Electronics of Worcester and comprises:

BS3 Bird scarer (programmed with Swift attraction calls)
Run off a 75ah 12V leisure battery with a 5 watt trickle feed solar panel.
There is a dawn/dusk light sensor and a 12V timer for maximum flexibility.
Unless the timer is set it plays 5 minutes durations of calls at random during daylight hours.
There is a volume control. 

The complete unit is weather proof.

Approx cost inc. delivery is   £450.00

Saturday 4 June 2011

The Cambridge Tower is up!

Photos by Bob Tonks:

Well, here it is in all its glory:

You can read all about it in the Cambridge News

and see this video about the tower by Cambridge Film Consortium and the the children.

And the back is just as interesting as the front:

Thursday 2 June 2011

Thursday 26 May 2011

Swifts and Churches in the Cherwell District of Oxfordshire

Contributed by Chris Mason

In April nest boxes were installed in the tower of St Swithun’s Parish church Merton, on the edge of Otmoor near Oxford. The work was done by members of the Cherwell Swifts Conservation Project which is publicising the decline in our Swift population, and the reasons for it, in the towns and villages of North Oxfordshire.

St Swithun’s Merton already has one or two pairs of Swifts, which nest under the eaves of the nave, and as the church is thought to be the last remaining nest site for Swifts in the village, the Parochial Church Council readily agreed to the installation of the nest boxes. We are hoping that the boxes will help add to their number.

The Cherwell project has recently forged a link with the local Diocese. There are still churches around the district which have nesting Swifts, but as elsewhere these are at risk when repair work has to be done on the church building. The Diocese has now agreed to consider how a system can be established to ensure that traditional Swifts’ nest sites are taken into account when repairs are being planned. This is not just to fulfil the legal obligation not to disturb nesting birds, but also to make sure that advice is obtained about undertaking ‘out of season’ repairs in a Swift-friendly way. 
The Diocese has also helped to publicise the idea that Swift nest boxes can be installed in church towers. Recently the Bishop of Dorchester visited the tower of St Mary’s church in Kirtlington near Oxford, where some years ago Action for Swifts installed nest boxes

This photograph was used in a feature article encouraging other churches in the Diocese to consider installing Swift nest boxes. It appeared in the March edition of The Door (the local Diocesan newspaper).

Chris Mason

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Cambridge Swift Tower - varnishing

Painting 221 boxes with 1 coat of stain and 3 coats of varnish is quite an undertaking. However, if you get enough volunteers on the job, it is surprising how quickly it gets done.

Here is a picture of Dick Newell with granddaughter Katie with paintbrush in hand:

Saturday 21 May 2011

The Tesco Swift Tower, Crumlin, Northern Ireland

Contributed by Brian Cahalane

We asked Brian if he would write a piece about how he went about the Swift Tower in Crumlin, telling us of the challenges and successes along the way - here it is:

The Crumlin Tower is erected
I wrote to Sir Terence Leahy, CEO of Tesco PLC. explaining the plight of the swift throughout the British Isles and to ask if he would consider the erection of a Swift Tower at Tesco's new store which was due to open in my home town, Crumlin Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland.

Only a short time elapsed when I was delighted to receive a letter from Sir Terence, who was sympathetic to my proposals.

Discussions began with Mr Lewis Carlish (Property Services Store Manager) who was extremely helpful from the start, and Mr Gerard Crosbie the store manager. A few concerns such as height of the tower and materials were quickly resolved and so the project began.

Friday 20 May 2011

CCTV monitoring of a Swift colony

Contributed by Dick:

One of the Swift cabinets on my house, with 9 chambers (on the left), overlooks my neighbour's garden. I cannot see it from my own property. Last year, I would stand on her lawn for over an hour at a time to monitor what was going on.

This year, I have installed a CCTV camera (from a disused tit box) that has all 9 entrances in its field of view. Further, I have bought SecuritySpy motion detection software for my Mac. I can now review several hours of elapsed time in a few minutes. This clip shows a two hour session in the evening with all 10 birds coming in to roost.

I am quite impressed with SecuritySpy, When it detects motion, it records a specified number of seconds before and after the event. I have set this to 1 second.

The only problems that I have encountered are such thing as spiders wrapping their webs around the camera, moving shadows as the sun shines through the leaves of the trees onto the box, and the occasional video glitch. The last of these is greatly reduced by shutting down everything on the computer, except for the video capture software.

I have used Quicktime to edit the results to remove these unwanted parts of the recording - it is very easy to use.

Sunday 15 May 2011

Herringswell Church, Suffolk

Contributed by Dick Newell, photos by Judith Wakelam

We were asked by Robin Upton, local farmer, Swift enthusiast and church supporter to come and advise about Swift boxes in the belfry of St Ethelbert church, Herringswell. The belfry looked less than suitable, as there are no louvres, however, the eaves under the roof of the south transept looked an ideal opportunity.

John Stimpson, of Wilburton was commissioned to make 4 boxes, based upon the Zeist box, custom built to fit between the joists extending beneath the eaves. Swift call playing equipment has been installed by Robin inside the church behind the boxes.

In any nest boxing scheme, such as this, it is important not to affect the external appearance of such an old building. This has been achieved.

[UPDATE 2014: the boxes have been increased with an additional 12 boxes under the chancel eaves]
[UPDATE 2018: 2 of the 12 boxes under the chancel eaves are occupied]


Friday 13 May 2011

Cambridge Swift tower erection!

The Cambridge City Council Swift Tower support structure has arrived on site ready for erection.

Thursday 5 May 2011

Cambridge Swift Tower - steelwork

Contributed by Guy Belcher
More progress - this is a picture of the steel framework which will hold 221 boxes, about 100 available for Swifts and 10 for bats.

The steel framework is now being sent to Corby for galvanizing.

Replacing a lost colony in Potton (Beds)

Contributed by Jake and Helen
A building in Potton which had a Swift colony was pulled down recently. The young woman in the photo, Tracey, agreed to have a couple of Zeist-style boxes on her property, which is close to the site of the lost colony. Seeing that breeders will arrive shortly and find their homes destroyed, she hopes to draw their attention to the new homes in the two boxes by playing the CD lure, starting right away.
If Tracey gets a good response, we have agreed to increase the accommodation, either with more single boxes, or more probably with a multi-compartment cabinet. Tracey's neighbours will also be watching.  If her nest-boxes are successful, at least one has expressed interest in putting up  boxes on her own house.

Wednesday 4 May 2011

St Mary, Longstowe

Contributed by Dick, photos by Bob

Before installation
We were asked to look at St Mary by local resident Anthony Clay because a colony of Swifts had been inadvertently destroyed in the vicarage nearby.

The slate louvres were quite deep, so we decided to build boxes behind the openings above the louvres. We thought this quite a good place as Swifts often explore possibilities high up in the louvres first.

For the first arch, in the west, we tried fitting the shape of the arch from measurements and photographs and it took a number of iterations to get it right. We now know that it is far easier to get a large sheet of paper trimmed to the arch and then to mark out the positions of boxes and entrances, as one can see the shadows of the openings through the translucent paper. This we did for the second arch on the north side.
One of the boxes, proudly held by Bob

Here is a picture of Bob Tonks holding the final masterpiece.

The boxes are made of 12mm Far Eastern plywood, which is weather proof. Marine ply has become extremely expensive in recent months, and right now, there is none in stock anywhere.
Boxes on the west side

Here is a picture  of the boxes on the west side in their final position. If and when the boxes become occupied, we will then insert inspection doors in the back. As it is now, the boxes can only be inspected at the end of the season, when the Swifts have gone, by taking the whole back off.
A view of the boxes on the north side.
Photo anthony Clay
You can just see the 4 boxes at the top of
the louvres in this west elevation

Friday 29 April 2011

Magrath Avenue Swift Street Party

Wills and Kate provided a great backdrop for the Magrath Avenue Swift Street Party. Masses of food & drink, a Swift mobile, and nestboxes were on show, as was the continuous sound of screaming Swifts. The booklet 'I am a Swift' was on sale. A great time was had by all, with many people asking questions of the attendant local Swift "experts" Jake Allsop, Bill Murrells,Helen Hodgson, Bob Tonks and Dick & Vida Newell.

The major outcome was about 15 residents wanting Swift boxes on their houses.

Thursday 28 April 2011

Monday 25 April 2011

Swift nest box entrances

Contributed by Dick:

[Update 2017: since writing this piece, we now recommend an entrance 28mm x 65mm, as some determined Starlings can squeeze into 30mm x 65mm]

Size of entrance
An entrance should let Swifts in and keep other species out, particularly Starlings. If an entrance with width equal to depth, e.g. circular or square, allows Swifts to enter, then Starlings can probably enter too. Conversely any such entrance small enough to keep Starlings out, may make life difficult for Swifts.
Schwegler 1MF

Some commercial boxes, such as the Schwegler 1MF double box and the Schwegler 16 have 45mm entrances that Starlings can easily enter.

Even our hero, Edward Mayer, recommends a home made box with a 45mm circular entrance, which Starlings will love. If you like Starlings, and we do, then put up boxes for them, but well away from any nesting Swifts, as Starlings can get aggressive during the brief period before their young have fledged and after the first breeding Swifts have arrived.

Friday 22 April 2011

Breaking News: Cambridge Swift Tower breaks ground

The foundations of the Cambridge Swift Tower are in: 3 piles supporting a triangle of reinforced concrete beams, now waiting for the supporting structure.

Monday 18 April 2011

A Swift Tower is Created

When we received pictures from Edward Mayer of a Swift Tower erected in Andover, based on some concepts that have been displayed on Edward's website that we had put together some time ago, we felt extremely gratified, and indeed proud, that someone had gone to the trouble of realising our dreams. As a result we invited Terry Verney to give us an account of what he and his team had been up to:

"Back in the autumn of 2010 the chief executive of the Hawk Conservancy Trust asked me to think Swift Towers. Not wishing to appear ignorant of the subject I did some research on the internet having been given the website I was hoping to find drawings giving sizes of the tower but was disappointed to find a concept drawing only. Reading further on I found the recommended size of a nest chamber and the entrance hole size.

Saturday 16 April 2011

The AfS Polo Shirt

Contributed by Jake

[UPDATE: we are afraid that we have sold out of polo shirts]

We just took delivery of 20 polo shirts (see attached pic). They are superb quality - pure Fruit of the Loom cotton - and the logo and legend are crisp and clear. If this doesn't raise the public profile of our efforts for Swifts, I will eat my concave.
I have shirts in the following sizes:S, M, L, XL and XXL. Clearly with a small initial order like this, the unit cost is higher. I paid just short of £300 for them, which includes unit cost, setup costs and VAT.  So I think a price of £15 per shirt is reasonable (p and p add £2.56). Let me know if you want one (email, or call me on 07749 898797).

If we get a good response, it is an easy matter to order more, hopefully with a larger quantity and a reduction in unit cost.
Money: I transferred £300 to the Action for Swifts Community Bank Account, so cheques in payment should be made out to Action for Swifts, not to me. 

Get beautiful, get noticed, get an AfS polo shirt!

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Mrs Nichols' House Restoration Project

Contributed by Helen:

This is a heartening story demonstrating that house restoration doesn’t have to mean disaster for resident wildlife. Thanks to the thoughtfulness of Mrs Nichols, returning swifts were not deprived of their historic nesting site. Mrs Nichols has, for the past two years or so, been restoring her home, a handsome listed house in the Norfolk countryside.

Saturday 2 April 2011

Royal Wedding Swift Street Party

Here is a great way to celebrate the Royal Wedding between HRH Prince William and Catherine Middleton. With one week to go before the expected arrival of Swifts in Cambridge, the residents of Magrath Avenue have decided to hold a street party, one of 34 street parties to be held in the City. Apart from tea and cakes, there will be promotional displays including nest-boxes, swift mobiles and booklets. Local Swift experts will be on hand to answer questions.

Sunday 27 March 2011

How to make a nest concave out of Modroc

Contributed by Dick:

We have been casting around for a method, suitable for children, of making nest concaves. The answer could well be Modroc - plaster of Paris bandage: it is cheap, simple and quick, and the resulting concave looks ideal for Swifts.
All you need is a suitable plastic food container, something to make the concave impression (e.g. bluetack, plasticine, papier maché or Modroc), Clingfilm and water. We used a Tesco's finest vegetable curry bowl 120mm in diameter. The concave former should look like an inverted saucer 9cm diameter by 15-20mm high and should be wrapped in Clingfilm to stop the Modroc sticking.

Friday 18 March 2011

Cambridge City Council Swift Tower

Contributed by Guy Belcher, Nature Conservation Projects Officer for Cambridge City Council.

In the UK, housing developers make contributions to a fund, known as Section 106 funds, for the purposes of financing urban art.  Cambridge City Council came up with the brilliant idea of making an allocation to build a Swift Tower on Logan's Meadow Nature Reserve (Pye Fen) which would be not only an attractive piece of static urban art, but also a dynamic piece of living kinetic art as the Swifts display in the summer with their spectacular screaming flypasts. Andrew Merritt, an upcoming young London artist was commissioned to produce a range of designs, one of which, inspired by the African sun, was chosen by a committee of local councillors and Swift experts Jake Allsop and Dick Newell.

Thursday 17 March 2011

Swift Nest Boxes in Church Belfries

Update: the text of this was updated in October 2012 and again in March 2018

Contributed by Dick Newell

St Mary the Virgin, St Neots
It is becoming a popular idea to place nest-boxes behind the louvres in church belfries. Many churches have lost their Swifts under the eaves as a result of roof renovations, so it is a good idea to try to get them back.

The pre-requisites for embarking on a project like this are a team with energy, enthusiasm and stamina, mains power near the belfry, as well as a sympathetic vicar, bell captain, church wardens and parochial church council. In making your case, you can say that Swifts are declining at 3-4% per annum, they are amber listed 'Endangered' and they make a fantastic show in the summer screaming around the church tower and, unlike some species that nest in buildings, they make little or no mess. It should be regarded as a 2 or 3 year project - and that is just to get the Swifts started. You can read elsewhere on this blog about CD playing, concave nest platforms and ideal nest-box sizes.

A common question is whether Swifts are negatively affected by the sound of church bells. As far as we know, the answer is no. There are many examples of Swifts nesting successfully within a few feet of bells that are regularly rung. In Haddenham Church, a Tawny Owl nested successfully, for several years, within a few feet of the bells.

Our experience has been with making tailor-made box-shaped cabinets, containing multiple nest chambers. Typically, the nest chambers are ~350mm long by ~200mm wide with a height determined by the spacing between the louvres. The entrance should be 65-75mm wide x 30 28mm positioned near the floor of the nest chamber and towards one end. Entrances can be anywhere in the gaps between louvres.

Boxes destined for St Mary's Ely
In larger cabinets, with many entrances, it may be a good idea to 'randomize' the position of the entrances at the left and right hand ends of the box. A Swift needs to be able to easily recognise an entrance the second and subsequent times that it looks for it. It is also necessary to treat the front of the box with wood preservative/sealant, using a dark colour so that the boxes appear invisible behind the louvres.
Boxes installed in St Mary's, Ely
[Update 2014 - at least 30 boxes occupied by Swifts]
[Update 2016 - estimated 55 boxes occupied]

Many louvres are covered with anti-bird netting. You can either replace the whole area of the netting with the front of the box, but it is often easier to make a hole in the netting, larger than the entrance in the box, by cutting the sides and the top of a rectangle with wire cutters, then bend the wire inwards and downwards.

Louvres are typically supported in a wooden frame, with two substantial vertical side members. The width of the box can overlap these members, so that, with the back off, the box can be screwed securely to them. But first ensure that the louvres and frame themselves are secure.

It is prudent to start with a modest installation of boxes to see if you can get the Swifts started, then follow up with a more ambitious installation in later years.

Swifts seem to have a tendency to go for the top and bottom louvres, so boxes behind the top two or bottom 2 louvre openings, say, is a sensible way to start.

12 boxes installed in St Mary the Virgin, St Neots.
Here, the tops of the louvres were out of reach
[Update 2014 - 9 boxes were occupied by Swifts]
The direction in which the louvres face is not an issue, as, even on a south facing aspect, the boxes are unlikely to get overheated

Access for maintenance can either be carried out after the end of the breeding season by removing the whole back, or simple access doors, secured by a single bolt through the top can be built which can be rotated to open. Disturbance earlier in the season will likely cause the birds to desert.

This has summarised much of our experience, and Swifts certainly take to this arrangement of boxes. However, there are other successful arrangements, including boxes placed behind one louvre spacing, with a bottom entrance accessed through the louvre spacing below.

For examples of details of church projects and other stuff about Swifts and churches see here