Sunday 22 December 2013

Fulbourn internal nest box design

As the provision of internal nest boxes on the 'Swifts' estate in Fulbourn has proved so successful, we thought it worthwhile to document in detail how it was done. 

Assembly of cavity panel, entrance pipe and nest box
Exploded view
Holes with pipes inserted
Cavity Panels added
Internal box, made of marine plywood
Entrance pipes through insulation, before brickwork

We have described here the success of internal nest boxes in Fulbourn, which seem to be greatly preferred by Swifts to external nestboxes:

In 2013, Swifts used 66 out of 139 internal nest boxes, but only 9 out of 88 external nest boxes. The internal boxes were custom made out of marine plywood, the external boxes were Schwegler 1MF's

All of the internal boxes are placed in roof spaces (attics) above the level of any living quarters. So nice and high for the Swifts and out of the way of humans. Typically, entrances are provided through a gable end.

A 4 inch core drill was used to drill a hole through the brickwork and insulation. In these houses there was no cavity, just a thick layer of insulation inside the brickwork. A 4 inch pipe provided a route from the entrance cavity panel to the nest box.

Why is Fulbourn so successful?
70 pairs of Swifts were displaced from their old nest sites, so there was a large surplus of established birds looking for somewhere to breed. This shows that, contrary to advice sometimes given, it is well worth providing replacement nest sites, even if you cannot put them close to the old nesting places.

The difference between the internal and external nest boxes is that the entrances face in different directions - maybe it was easier for these birds, desperate to find somewhere to breed, to spot the horizontally-facing entrances of the internal boxes first.

Starlings occupied many of the Schwegler 1MF's, this could have deterred the Swifts from using these boxes.

Perhaps Swifts particularly like to have a certain distance between the entrance and the nesting place, provided by the 4 inch pipe.

There was a limited amount of attraction call playing, but in this case, it was probably a minor factor.

What might one do differently
It may be relevant to ask what one might do differently, not that it is necessary to do anything differently - as it works very well.

The inside of the pipe was roughened to give the Swifts a grip. It might be easier to use a small amount of cement mortar to give a rough flat path.

The entrance hole is placed in the centre of the box. Swifts may prefer it off centre, nearer one end.

The boxes are quite large, with a floor area 400-500mm x 140mm. 300-400mm x 175mm might be better proportioned.

The pictures, left, should be self explanatory - click any one to see enlarged versions of all of them.

Thanks are due to Rob Mungovan of South Cambs District Council who was the driving force behind this project and also for the use of his pictures.


Saturday 14 December 2013

Swifts in the Maiden Tower

The Maiden Tower, Baku
Here is a heartening story from Azerbaijan. In the capital, Baku, an historic local landmark known as the Maiden's Tower has been home to swifts for many years. Holes in its crumbling walls have provided nestplaces for about 250 Swifts for the past 30 or 40 years.

The tower is now being repaired in order to combat a hundred years of weather damage. But the repair, when completed, will leave only about 40 holes usable by the Swifts.

Fortunately, a project is underway to install additional specially-designed Swift nestboxes on nearby local buildings to compensate for the loss. This work is being carried out on the initiative of the State Historical-Architectural Reserve of Azerbaijan, whose Deputy Director, Samir Nuriyev, is making a presentation of the Baku Swift Project at our Cambridge InternationalConference in April 2014.

For a fascinating preview, listen to this podcast of an interview with Samir on Irish Radio. Also, for more information, visit, whose Director, Edward Mayer, offered valuable advice to Samir and his team.

New accommodation in nearby building

Friday 13 December 2013

What should you feed a Swift?

Any experienced Swift rehabber will tell you that giving Swifts a diet of catmeat, mealworms and the like will have disastrous consequences. Yet, intuitively, that's what most of us would do if we didn't know better. Well-meaning, but misguided, we reason that the Swift is an insectivorous bird, so it will welcome a substitute meat diet if we haven't got any insects to hand.
So, we know anecdotally that you should avoid certain foods when bringing on a Swift, but now there is scientific evidence to support the assertion. An article appearing in a recent issue of JZAR, the Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research describes the results of an experiment carried out by Enric Fusté and colleagues at the Centre de Recuperació de Fauna Selvatge de Torreferrussa in Catalunya.
The team hand-reared a total of 116 chicks which they divided into four groups, each fed a different diet:
Diets with good results for Swifts:
1. cricket diet, based on house crickets (Acheta domesticus) and wax moth larvae (Galleria mellonella)
2. mealworm diet, based on mealworm larvae (Tenebrio molitor). 

Two “meat” diets were also tried with much worse results:
3. rat mince diet, a specific pathogen-free laboratory rat mince; 
4. kibble diet, a formula based on a high-protein–low-carbohydrate cat food; 
and two “insect” diets: 
All the chicks were given vitamin and other supplements to ensure that they were not put at undue risk.

The results were clear: birds fed on the meat diets (3 and 4) had significantly lower weights than those fed on diets (1 and 2). Additionally, features such as feather growth and feather quality were significantly lower in the meat-fed groups. You can download a pdf file of the complete report here. We are also fortunate that Enric Fusté is giving a talk at our Cambridge International Swift Conference next April.

Monday 2 December 2013

Swift and Positive Change at Premier Inn Exeter

This is a heartening story of how a major hotel chain is providing accommodation for Swifts and other wildlife in its new developments. We thought it worth reblogging their press release in full.

Premier Inn Exeter, Honiton Road, is opening its doors to some very special guests: guests which will travel thousands of miles, battling the elements and crossing oceans before settling down in their comfortable hotel.

The guests I am referring to are Swifts, the small migratory birds with distinctive curved wings often seen in the sky on warm summer evenings. These magnificent birds make the epic journey from Africa twice a year, tracking the warmer climates across the earth; a breeding adult Swift can travel up to 4 million miles in its lifetime, stopping only to breed.

A computer generated image of a new
Premier Inn Hotel in Cambridge
In recent years these wonderful birds have found it increasingly difficult to find nest space on our shores. They are an amber listed species in the UK, meaning the birds are in decline and in need of protection.

Whitbread is always looking for ways in which it can positively impact on the environment, whether it is through saving water or reducing our carbon footprint. So doing our part to help these birds was a challenge we leapt at.

The RSPB has advised Whitbread on the best way to give these birds a safe place to nest. As a result of our joint efforts, Premier Inn Exeter, Honiton Road, now has 21 Swift boxes installed into the fabric of the hotel, recreating the natural space the birds need to reproduce.

Now travellers human and avian can enjoy a well-earned rest after a hard journey. Inspired by our endeavours in Exeter and with the support of the RSPB, we are introducing similar bird boxes to our Exmouth, Central Exeter and Portsmouth schemes, which will be suitable for a range of different species, including House Sparrows and Starlings, whose numbers are also in rapid decline.

Should these trials be successful, and given the size of our new hotel pipeline, the sky really could be the limit for Swifts and other bird species. It’s another example of how we are leading the hospitality industry to be more environmentally friendly.

All credit to Stephen Fitt of the RSPB and Edward Mayer of Swift Conservation who advised Premier Inn.