Wednesday 29 August 2012

Warsaw Swift Tower

These pictures are of a model of one of the winning entries in a competition to design a swift tower to be built in Warsaw, Poland.

Contributed by Rafal Pieszko, Menthol Architects

click on images to enlarge
One of the biggest problems for swifts in Poland is the loss of nesting sites. Modern construction is devoid of spaces where the birds can nest. Old buildings are renovated in a way that slots and holes where the birds nest are blocked. 

Unfortunately, the presence of birds in buildings during renovation causes intense conflicts between bird lovers and investors. However, people are beginning to realize that their presence is beneficial because they eat huge quantities of insects which are oppressive to humans. 

One of the best ways to protect these birds is to create safe nesting sites. Construction of small architectural forms would provide safe accommodation for the birds in a city environment. 

The dynamic silhouette of the swift during flight was the inspiration for the project. Long, narrow, pointed wings during flight and a slightly forked tail were captured in the proposed design, both in the front and side elevations. The form of the tower, reflecting the swift in flight can be easily recognised, and thus it promotes action to protect it.

The proposed location for the tower is in the park near the Vistula river in Warsaw. The tower is 7.82m height and has 90 nest boxes. The solar photovoltaic panels provide power for playing attraction calls, as well as 4 LED strip lights which will be lit at night time. This way the structure will function as a year round sculpture and it will attract more attention from people who will be aware of what is being done for swifts in Warsaw. 

We will reuse the ground from digging the foundations to form small landscape shapes covered with grass, as shown in the model.

For more details, see Menthol Architects

m e n t h o l   a r c h i t e c t s  -  natural  architecture  laboratory

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Wessex Place, Cambridge

This is a story of cooperation between local swift enthusiasts, the city council, owners, architects and builders resulting in the installation of 34 swift nest boxes in a renovated building.

Written by Dick Newell

Wessex Place nearing completion with 14 nest-boxes under 
the eaves on the left,  and another 20, in 2 lots of 10 under
the eaves on the right.
Wessex Place, a residential care home, on the one time site of the Rex Cinema, was closed in April 2009, since which time it has remained empty, apart from 2 pairs of swifts and a number of nesting starlings. Trinity College spotted the opportunity to renovate it and turn it into student flats.

Magrath Avenue resident, Helen Hodgson, knew that there were breeding Swifts and had already informed Guy Belcher, Cambridge City Council Nature Conservation Officer.

10 of the 20 nest-boxes built into the eaves. Note the small
speaker on the left with wire back into the roof space ready
for attraction call playing

Discussions took place between Guy,  the agents, Bidwells, the site manager Michael Denson and Trinity College who all agreed it would be a good idea to preserve the existing nest sites, as well as to create more opportunities for nesting swifts in this part of Cambridge.

The original intention was to preserve the 2 existing nesting places and to provide an additional 7 nest-boxes.

4 of the built in boxes. The swifts will nest on top of the
wall which is about 25mm below the entrances
On examining the situation, Michael Denson, together with Roger Seaman, Bidwells' Building Surveyor, could see that there were another 8 places identical to where the swifts were nesting, many of these had been occupied by starlings. Further, these nesting places were so large that each one could easily accommodate 2 pairs of swifts. So the 2 nesting places requested became 20 nesting places. All that was needed was a simple partition down the middle of the space between the joists, and a facing board with entrances designed for swifts which would exclude starlings. These were made by Bob Tonks.

4 out of 7 pairs of nest-boxes.
There is another speaker installed at the far end
1 pair of nest-boxes. The gap above the box, which avoids 
blocking ventilation into the roof space, has an insect and
bird-proof barrier. Doubtless some swifts will attempt to get
into it.

For the other 7 boxes, we built a prototype of a single box to fit on the outside of the south part of the building under the eaves between the protruding joists. It was requested that the nest-boxes be made longer, so that they would fit neatly between the joists to which they could be attached more easily than screwing them to the wall behind the boxes. The extra length meant that each box could be divided in 2, thus yielding 14 nest boxes. 

Although the two pairs of swifts have lost a breeding season, there is every chance that they will return next year to find luxury new accommodation, and, over time, be joined by many other pairs. 

The residents of Magrath Avenue can look forward to a vibrant swift colony on their doorstep.

Friday 24 August 2012

The Air Brick Liner Swift Brick

In ancient times, Swifts nested wholly in natural places, such as holes in trees, sometimes made by woodpeckers, or in rock faces. Then a new source of nest sites appeared when we unintentionally provided spaces in our buildings, and doubtless the swift population greatly increased. Now that we are destroying nest places with roof renovations and roof insulation, the time has come to deliberately incorporate nest places in new buildings. We previously reported on the rescue of a Swift colony in St Neots, using air brick liners for swift bricks. The success of this has lead us to refine our ideas and report fully on how such air bricks may be deployed more widely.

Contributed by Bill Murrells & Dick Newell

Swift brick. [since this picture was taken, we now
use 'undercloak' for the ends, a low cost, strong, asbestos

The picture at left shows A swift brick made from a standard, clay air brick liner of length 200mm. The internal floor area is 200mm x 175mm, diagonal 266mm), and the internal height is 100mm. This is big enough for any swift to turn around, without bending its wings and it is large enough for a young swift to exercise. The outside dimensions of this brick are 200mm (plus 2 slates) x 215mm x 140mm.

At least 2 of these were occupied at St Neots in 2012, so they are accepted by swifts.

The air brick is the model 401 (see PDF on page 9). The ends, made of slate, or under cloak, are glued on with resinous glue. The air brick is available in any length up to 300mm. Although swifts will use an air brick 200mm long, They may prefer something longer, so that they can get further from the entrance.  From a swift's point of view, a brick 300mm long would be luxurious, 225mm (the length of a standard brick) could be a good length to go for. The computer models below illustrate air bricks in 2 situations. This brick occupies the space of 1 house brick horizontally and 2 courses of bricks vertically. Its internal floor area is 200mm x 175mm (diagonal 285mm),  height 100mm; the outside dimensions are 200mm (plus 2 slates) x 215mm x 140mm

Four SB-225's in a gable end
Two SB-225's under a soffit - from below
The ideal location for installing air bricks is as high as possible under the eaves or in a gable end. It is possible to hide much of the brick behind a barge board or within the eaves. They would also go well in the middle of a wall, but in such places where they could get wet, then a cavity tray might be needed (a piece of felt below and behind the swift brick)

Two SB-225's under a soffit - from above

The advantages of this swift brick are that it is made of approved building materials, it looks aesthetically pleasing, it is easy to make and easy to install, it is a good size for swifts and it is made of low cost, readily available materials; the basic air brick costs less than £10. It merely requires an angle grinder to fashion the entrance (a slot 65mm x 28mm), and some glue.

Thus we think that it should be acceptable to architects and builders, as well as being desirable for swifts.

Although the terracotta colour is acceptable in most situations (see examples below), the air brick can be painted with any exterior paint, such as Sandtex.

6 of the 12 boxes (SB-200's) in the old St Neots factory site in Brook Street
At least 2 boxes were occupied in 2012, and 1 pair bred.

One of the 5 boxes occupied in 2013, chicks were known to be raised in at least 4 boxes
and Swifts were seen entering 9 different boxes.
2 air brick linersin a small development in Colville Rd, Cherry Hinton, Cambridge

Closeup of an installed air brick liner

Monday 20 August 2012

Some success in Nottinghamshire!

This was originally posted on 30th July 2011, scroll down to the update (beyond the 'read more >>') on 19th August 2012 at the bottom of this post: successful breeding and a second pair established!

Contributed by Carol Collins and Alan Wilkins

Update 2017:
Since 2012, much has happened at Kinoulton church.
In 2012  the boxes were increased from 10 to 20
2013 was disappointing when 2 pairs raised just 1 chick, partly due to invading bees.
2014 was better when 3 pairs laid 8 eggs resulting in 7 fledged chicks.
2015 saw the boxes increase to 40, now 10 on all 4 sides, but 6 pairs of Swifts had a poor season, raising only 8 chicks, partly due to problems with Starlings, resolved by reducing entrance sizes.
In 2016 things took off with 11 pairs producing 20 fledglings, then in 2017 14 pairs produced 26 fledglings.
Cameras are installed with live viewing of 3 nests in the nave.
The local school and neighbouring parishes are also taking an interest.
So all in all, what a successful project!

Boxes inside the north louvres
In Kinoulton we started by visiting the experts. We went over to Ely in February and spent a really useful morning with Dick Newell and Bill Murrells being shown the intricacies of installing swift boxes in St. Mary’s Church, as well as looking at several other sites where boxes have been put up by the Cambridgeshire team. We learned a lot, about swifts in general and about the boxes, and came back determined to get boxes installed in Kinoulton Church before the end of April.

St. Luke’s Church is brick built, with a square tower with a louvred window on each side. We are lucky in that there is a boarded floor above the bells and below the louvred windows, so that we have a safe and empty space in which to work. The only bell which is above the wooden floor is the large one which tolls the hours - and inevitably takes us by surprise each time it strikes. We now wear ear-muffs on the hour!

10 inspection holes
We decided to put the boxes on the north face and as close to the top of the louvres as possible which meant constructing a semicircular unit (incorporating 10 boxes) to fit the top of the window. We thought about trying different designs of entrance holes but in the end made them all the same size of oval, and put a concave in each box. In the picture the observation holes on the back have yet to have their sliding covers added; the entrance holes are the smaller ovals on the lower side.

Thursday 2 August 2012

Story with a Happy Ending

Contributed by Jake, photos by Judith Wakelam

At the end of June, Bill Murrells and I were called to a site in Ely where a terrace of three cottages was being reroofed. On removing the tiles at the gable end, one of the workmen uncovered a nest with three young nestlings in it, which turned out to be Swifts. As the builders had done the right thing by reporting the nest, we did not wish to force them to delay the work.

Our first idea was to put up a nestbox as close to the original nest site as possible and to transfer nest and nestlings into it.  The chicks had probably not been fed for maybe twenty-four hours, something Swift chicks have evolved to handle. We decided to give it another twenty-four hours to see if the parents would take to the box. Evening and early morning vigils confirmed that the adults were not going into the box. With the benefit of hindsight, this idea may have been a mistake, as mitigation nest-boxes are known to sometimes work before breeding has started, but not afterwards.

One of the chicks on the day it was taken into care
So, I put the three nestlings in my hat and took them to Judith Wakelam, one of our star rehabbers. The nestlings began feeding almost immediately, the runt of the litter being more voracious than the other two, to the extent that eventually the runt became the biggest and heaviest of the trio!

One month later, 3 chicks ready for release
When Judith judged they were ready to be released - flight feathers fully grown, lots of "push up" exercising and the usual restlessness - she took them to the nearest open space, Newmarket Heath, close to the Racecourse, where Bill and I were privileged to assist. The method of release is important: bearing in mind how fledglings normally leave the nest - perching at the entrance or on the edge of the nest and hesitating for ages before finally taking the plunge.

An enchanted Bill Murrells with Swift ready for release
We attempted to reproduce this situation, by holding the bird aloft on the flat or back of one's hand, allowing the Swift time to adjust and to make up its mind to go. It also helps to have the bird facing into the wind to give it lift. It is considered bad practice to "throw" it into the air. Be patient, let the bird determine the pace. Of course, you can rock your hand gently from time to time, which causes the bird to spread its wings to maintain its balance, but no more than that.

Ready steady ......
Eventually the three birds took off. It's a breath-stopping moment when the bird leaves your hand. Will it gain height? Will it plummet to the ground? (It's because of the risk of plummeting that you stage the release in a big open space like Newmarket Heath, so that you can find it easily in the short grass). The first bird released gained height and started to circle around us at some distance. Out of nowhere, another Swift appeared and joined it. Other rehabbers have noticed how, from an apparently empty sky, Swifts will appear to accompany a lone released bird. Amazing.

The second and third fledglings eventually launched themselves into the air, and were also joined by other Swifts, once they had gained height and distance. Mission accomplished.

Lessons of the story:
1. It is a good idea if nesting Swifts (and other species) are found, before renovation work is planned.
2. Respect the builders who were good enough to report the nest they had disturbed. Do everything you can to avoid causing a delay to their work. Only use the law as the very last resort.
3. It's also good PR to keep them informed. We took photographs of the rescued birds, showing how they were progressing, and then reported back that they had been successfully released.
4. Use a competent rehabber. Swifts need specialist treatment, and there aren't many people like Judith with the skill to do the job. If you don't know a rehabber, contact us through or call 01353 740540 for help.
4. If you are launching a bird yourself (eg an adult that was simply grounded or winded), take it to an open space, hold it high on your hand, facing into the wind, and be patient: the bird will go when it's ready.
Also see our advice page: If you find a grounded swift