Thursday 3 March 2011

Why play the Swift CD?

Posted by: Dick Newell
Swifts in a frenzy, attracted to calls
played through a single speaker
While you can agonise over box sizes, entrance shapes, surface textures, directions, heights and concaves, all of these only have a marginal effect on success or failure in attracting Swifts into a nest box. The nearest thing to a 'silver bullet' is playing a CD of Swifts screaming, typically a duet of two Swifts calling 'sree-ree' to each other. When asked the question of how and when to play the calls, the simple answer is as loud and as long as possible, subject to not annoying anyone. There is an opinion that early morning and evening is best, but any time of day can be effective. It is also best to position the speakers as near to the boxes as possible, some even say in the boxes, but somewhere below the boxes in a window, or on the ground also works.

We know of cases of people getting Swifts into a box within 30 seconds of starting to play the CD; we also know of cases of people playing the CD for 5 years without success, but this is unusual and we suspect that the CD has not been played sufficiently consistently throughoutt the season. In our projects in 2010, in 5 cases where we know that the CD playing was well organised and consistently carried out throughout the season, 4 of these succeeded in acquiring new occupants.

Switching CD players on and off is a tedious chore, but this can be made easier by using a remote infrared switch so that, while sitting in the garden with a glass of wine, you can switch the CD on, when the Swifts come by, without getting out of your chair. However, it is well worthwhile investing some effort in setting up an automated system, driven by a timer. The simplest way to do this is to plug your CD player power supply directly into the mains, then plug the speaker power supply into a timer. Set the CD player to repeat, so it plays 24 hours a day, but the sound emerges from the speakers only when the timer says so. Now, if your CD player is playing for 6 weeks continuously, it tends to thrash the player, so maybe an MP3 player would be preferable.

Alternatively, plug the CD player into the same timer, by using an extension with two sockets, and, hold the play button down with a clamp, rubber band, clothes peg or whatever comes to mind. On some CD players (e.g. Sony Discman), they will start and stop playing as the power is switched on and off. Now, you do this at your own risk, as you would be using the equipment in an unauthorised way, but we are talking about a 4.5 volt system here, which would be hard pressed to cause a fire.
Some ghetto blasters also behave in this way if the play button is held down.

An extreme CD exponent is Brian Cahalane in Crumlin, Northern Ireland. Brian plays his CD from dawn until dusk, from the end of April to early August, through multiple speakers and as loud as possible. The result: he quickly acquired a colony of 22 pairs of breeding Swifts, and many more clambering to get into his boxes.

Now, one doesn't need to go to these extremes, but playing the CD from about the 3rd week of May, when prospecting non-breeders arrive, until the second week of July, every day for at least 2 hours a day will give a better than 50% chance of success (We don't have enough hard statistics to defend this claim).

If your nest-boxes are replacements for nesting places that have been destroyed, then start playing at the beginning of May to show the displaced birds where there are new nesting places.

You can buy a CD from Swift Conservation or Jacobi Jayne

You can also download Swift calls from the Dutch Swift Association
It is suggested that you use the .wav versions for CD players and the MP3 versions for MP3 players:

POSTSCRIPT 30 Nov 2012: See our latest idea for attraction call playing: the Cheng Sheng player amplifier.


  1. Set the CD player to repeat, so it plays 24 hours a day, but the sound emerges from the speakers only when the timer says so. Now, if your CD player is playing for 6 weeks continuously, it tends to thrash the player, so maybe an MP3 player would be preferable. Satılık Ev elektroniği

  2. How do I complain to the council about this. I have a neighbour who plays this constantly and the racket is driving us mad.

    1. Attraction calls should never be played so that it irritates people. Have you tried talking to the people and suggesting times of day and a sound volume setting which would be acceptable to you. Attraction calls do not have to be very loud for successful attraction. Feel free to contact me on

    2. I have the same problem. Neighbour plays this from 8am til 8pm.we have to close all of our windows if we want to watch TV. It is like water torture after many days.
      I do not want to confront the neighbour as I simply do not want the risk of a long going dispute. I am favouring writing an anonymous letter and if no improvement, a latter to the council. Any advice?

    3. All Swift people I know would be most upset if they thought they were annoying someone, and would certainly compromise a lot so that they can get their swifts without upsetting you - go and talk to them. They can turn the volume down and/or switch it off at times which bother you most.

  3. Hi Dick,

    Some advice please. I installed a two box set up with speakers under my sofits in March and unfortunately I need to play the calls as infrequently as I can get away with. Not ideal I know but that's the situation.

    I determined that the best course of action would be approximately 10 days from 5th May and then the last two weeks of July.

    FROM RSPB :-You can play the Swift calls CD throughout the three-month long nesting season. In the UK this starts at
    the end of April to about mid May, depending on the weather, and usually ends in August. If this is not
    feasible, then play the CD from the beginning of May to the end of June, then again for the last two weeks
    of July, to coincide with the peaks of nest seeking activity.

    Now the thing is, the RSPB advice states play for the last two weeks of July whereas Actionforswifts advice is 'until the second week of July'.

    Obviously for someone like me who has to keep the goodwill of neighbours in mind the timing here is crucial to maximise the potential for success. When do you think the busiest two week late season nest prospecting falls in central Essex? perhaps a tough question but any help is much appreciated.

    kind regards

  4. I believe the peak 2-week attraction season could be one week either side of mid-summer's day. If you can keep going for 2 or 3 weeks after this, that can be good too.

  5. I am playing the Dutch swift calls. They have inbuilt silences. Is this effective? Also, I don't know if I'm playing them loudly enough. Is there any way of knowing? I don't want to disturb my neighbours!

  6. Silences are intended to make the calls more acceptable to neighbours. It is not known what effect it has on the Swifts. Louder may be better at attracting Swifts, but not at the risk of annoying neighbours. You can be successful with low volume calls.