Monday 31 August 2015

Internal Swift nest boxes in a Belgian school

This project demonstrates a technique that has been used several times in the UK, but using commercial, off-the shelf products. Though possibly more expensive, the end result looks very professional. It uses identical products to this project. Whereas in this country, most projects have attempted to make the entrances 'invisible' (e.g. these four projects: 123 and 4), this project has some similarity to the very successful project in Fulbourn Cambs where the entrances were made conspicuous (5).
A heartening feature is the enthusiastic collaboration of the various stakeholders -  municipal officers, local councillors, building contractors and other interested parties. Without this kind of cooperative effort, schemes of this kind are very hard to bring to fruition. Well done, the town of Jette.

We thank Martine Wauters for allowing us to translate and reblog the post on her blog. In her own words:

The school before work started
This is the realisation of a wonderful project: nest accommodation integrated into a school building

I am pleased to announce that a project that I have been dreaming about for the last 5 years has finally materialised: the installation of eight nestboxes for Swifts integrated aesthetically into the facade of a local school (French section and Dutch section) of my town in Jette (Brussels NW), as part of a renovation project.

And it is the kind of project that I like: the result of a successful collaboration with several groups and individuals: from the municipality, including two aldermen from different political parties and two officials from different departments); one building contractor and his team; and several national and international experts. My thanks to them all!

Components: a face-plate, a pipe and a nest box
In alphabetical order, the contributors to this project are:
Louis Philippe Arnhem (Leuven), Swift expert
Laurence Bottini (Municipality of Jette), Municipal Heritage Department, and responsible for the building site.
Christel Matthijs, Director Gemeentelijke Basisschool Vande Borne (Dutch section of the school complex)
Edward Mayer (Swift Conservation, UK), Swift expert (www.swift-­
Coralie Meeus (Municipality of Jette), Ecoconsultant
A view from the outside
Dick Newell (Action for Swifts, UK), Swift expert (
Johnny Van Belle (Euronet company), Entrepreneur, and his team (www.euronet­
Sylvie Vanderhaegen, Director of the Jacques Brel School (French section)
Claire Vandevivere (Municipality of Jette), Environment
Bernard Van Nuffel (Municipality of Jette), Municipal Property Assets

They are pioneers in the Brussels region, and indeed in the whole of Francophone Belgium Let us hope their example will be followed by many other entrepreneurs, councillors, officials and individuals.

Abroad, experience has shown that this type of development is appreciated by Swifts, who prefer nest boxes affixed under ledges. Fingers crossed that Swifts will soon discover the five­-star hotel we have created for them.

A view from the inside

Inside view of 4 nest boxes

Outside view of 8 entrances


Thursday 27 August 2015

A new swift tower in Amersfoort, The Netherlands

Swift towers are going up everywhere from Northern Ireland to Poland, and from England to Germany. The design, materials and methods for erection and maintenance are varied. Do they work? Occupancy rates continue to be modest, so all reports of Swifts using them for breeding are welcome. One thing for sure: they make a bold public statement. So, even if we don't get a return on our effort equivalent to the success of, say, nestboxes in buildings, they have the effect of raising public awareness of the importance of Swift conservation. The latest example of a Swift tower comes to us from the Netherlands. The design is ingenious, with a foldable mast/pole, allowing easy erection and dismantling for maintenance. We wish our Dutch colleagues luck with their venture

Contributed by Marjo van der Lelie

This new Swift tower in Amersfoort, the Netherlands, was designed and built by the Gierzwaluwwerkgroep Amersfoort (Swift Volunteer Group). It is made of red cedar. This type of wood was chosen for its durable and light qualities. The total weight of the tower is 33 kilograms.

On top of the 8 metre pole
The mast is similar to the one used in the Den helder tower. It is a standard product that is generally used for the lighting of sports fields. It is foldable and weighted so it can support the weight of the tower. The mast is 8 meters high. A platform made of galvanised steelplate is welded on top of the mast. The tower is fixed onto this platform with bolts.
Because the mast is foldable the tower is within easy reach for future work: the mast can be lowered using a winch.

Internal structure
The tower contains a small speaker. Electricity is supplied by a solar panel at the back of the speaker. Twice daily the sound of the swifts is played to entice the swifts. The roof of the structure is doubly insulated to prevent high temperatures in the nest boxes. The centre of the structure also contains a ventilation shaft for cooling the nests.

Ready for erection
The Swift Volunteer Group has christened the tower the ‘Hotel Apus’. This hotel has 15 spacious rooms. Every entrance is decorated with a wooden character. Together they make the word ‘GIERZWALUWHOTEL’, Dutch for ‘Swift Hotel’.

The tower was erected on Friday 26 June 2015. Marjo and Fred van der Lelie and Gijs Valkenhoef were the creative and organisational masterminds behind this swift tower. We hope the swifts will soon take up residence!

More information can be obtained from Marjo and Fred van der Lelie at

And here is the movie!

Tuesday 25 August 2015

Birdfair 2015

We need not have doubted our decision to take a stand at Birdfair, billed as 'The international wildlife event of the year' 2015.  It was busy, exhausting, exhilarating and we got to talk to hundreds of people.

Our presence was a joint effort by Swift Conservation, Swifts Local Network and Action for Swifts. Our display panels showed everything from the problems Swifts face to the solutions.

Visitors were stunned by our display comparing tracks from Cambridge and the Beijing Swift Project, which we believe is the longest recorded migration of any bird other than a seabird or a shorebird.

We had nest boxes on show, as well as 2 Cheng Shengs playing calls, which seemed to be universally liked by all our visitors. We were not difficult to find! On the corner of our stand, we had an Apple computer playing rolling videos of Swifts in nest boxes and nest box ideas.

John Stimpson kindly provided flat-pack Zeist nest boxes for us to sell. We sold all 34 flat-packs, a few of which were a new design. We also sold a good number of Cheng Sheng attraction kits. Together with generous donations, this all helped to cover the cost of the stand.

A number of people said we had the best stand in the show (there were 380 stands) and Edward spoke to a standing-room-only audience. Edward was told that his was the best talk in the whole show!

It would have been even more exhausting, but for our team of volunteers, so thank you to Vida, Jake, Judith, Chris, Peta, Bill, Bob, Maurice, Tanya, Edmund, John, Tim, Glynne, Rowena and Nick (did I miss anyone?). And thank you to everyone who dropped by to see us.

The pictures below tell their own story:
A gleeful Edward mayer. Photo Judith Wakelam
Edward Mayer left and Dick Newell right. Photo Judith Wakelam

Hu Qiongmei (China Birdwatching Society) and Zhu Lei (English name "Robbi")
from Parrotbill Bird Tours, Sichuan, visit the stand
Gray Jolliffe's cartoon and Tom Lindroo's Swift were visible from a long way off

Bill Murrels left and an animated Edward Mayer

Nick Baker and Dick Newell. Photo Rowena Baxter
Our display comparing the migration of Cambridge and Beijing Swifts. Photo Judith Wakelam
Enlarged version of our map - Click to enlarge

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Swift boxes in the sun - by Clarke Brunt

The normal advice for Swift nest boxes is to avoid south-facing walls. The real issue is to not subject breeding Swifts to a high temperature. South-facing walls are fine with the right kind of nest boxes.

by Dick

When Clarke Brunt moved into his house in Milton Cambs in 2006, he found some strange looking nest boxes on the south wall of his house. He eventually discovered that these were Swift boxes modelled on boxes installed on The Hirsel in Coldstream, Scotland by Major Douglas Hume, the naturalist, in 1950-54, with a modification designed to exclude House Sparrows. Clarke converted them back into something looking more conventional as well as adding a number of other boxes of various designs.

5 of Clarkes boxes. The first box occupied is the one on the left,
before it was painted white. He also has Swifts nesting inside
entrances in the eaves. Photo Clarke Brunt
This year, 2015, Clarke had 6 pairs of Swifts breeding successfully, 2 of which were in holes in his eaves, but 4 of which were in nest boxes exposed to the mid-day sun.

The main characteristic of these boxes is that they are painted white and some are made of wood 15mm thick. The Zeist boxes are made of 12mm plywood. This is sufficient to keep the temperature within acceptable limits on this east of south-facing aspect.

Clarke's house, just left of centre.
The Swift boxes are on the east of south-facing wall
I first became acquainted with Clarke as I used to cycle past his house on the way to Cambridge, and I heard Swift calls being played. It took some time before we eventually connected, and since then I have been intrigued by the progress of his colony.

Clarke's garden is a haven for wildlife with regular hedgehogs, newts in the pond, tame Starlings perching on Clarke's hands for food and a wonderful display of plants and beehives and, of course, a great Swift spectacle through the summer.

Clarke's Swifts have been online for the last 3 years, with 3 chicks being raised in both of his camera boxes this year.

So, as we have said before, south-facing walls are fine, provided the walls of the box are thick enough and they are painted white.

You can read more about Clarke's Swifts on his website.


Thursday 6 August 2015

Swifts get established in Dry Drayton

This is the story of a Cambridgeshire Village, originally with no known breeding Swifts, but now with a street with a growing Swift population.

by Rowena Baxter  Photos: Clive Cooper

During June 2008 I noticed several swifts investigating the eaves of the houses in Pettitts Close, Dry Drayton.  These houses were built in 1975, all to a fairly similar design, some with the eaves apex at the front and some with the apex at the side.  All eaves have an overhang of about 9 inches. Knowing that the houses were unlikely to have holes in their roofs or soffits suitable for breeding swifts, I contacted Dick Newell.  He suggested I put up a swift box, or even better, two.  So I bought two Zeist boxes from John Stimpson and Clive fixed them to the east wall of our house, under the eaves and around 7 feet above the garage flat roof.  

I also persuaded a neighbour further down the road to have a Zeist box.  He fixed it to a west-facing wall where the flyway was partly blocked by the house next door [See Fig. 6].

Dick advised that to make it easier to attract swifts to our boxes, I should play swift calls while the swifts are here from mid-May to end of July.  So in 2009 I bought a CD of swift calls from Swift Conservation and initially played calls on a CD player from the bedroom window on the south side just around the corner from the swift boxes.  This didn’t seem very satisfactory as it was not near the boxes, so I set up a very basic CD system in the garage playing swift calls, with speakers in a plastic box on a table on the flat roof beneath the boxes.  This involved my climbing in and out of the bedroom window whenever rain was due to shut up the plastic box to avoid the speakers getting wet.  The CD player was not suitable to be used with a timer.  If we were out for any length of time, away or during bad weather no calls were playing

Fig 1. Two Zeist boxes on south wall, painted white

However, the calls and the boxes attracted swifts that summer and they investigated the boxes, looked inside even, but here I made a major mistake.  Alongside the roof are some trees which blocked the route into the boxes from the east and I felt that this was a disadvantage as the route in from the south was free of any trees and completely open. So after some thought we moved the boxes to beneath the eaves on the south side and painted them white to reflect some of the heat from the sun.

Two more Zeist boxes made by John Stimpson were attached to the house next door, towards the back of the east side, over a flat garage roof, with a clear flyway over the back gardens [See Fig 5].

Fig 2. white Zeist boxes and new cabinet box
For two years I played the calls during May, June and July, in good weather, covering the speakers when it rained.  The swifts, attracted by the call playing, showed no interest in the same Zeist boxes on the south face.  

Following the second unsuccessful season in 2010 I consulted Dick again and he suggested that a cabinet box, end on to the south with four compartments, might be more successful.  The new box, made by Bob Tonks, was attached to the east side, entrances facing south, in April 2011.  The call playing system remained the same, speakers on a table under the box.

During the 2011 season there were plenty of swifts attracted to the calls but none seemed to discover the entrance holes in the new box and none found the other Zeist boxes (where there were no calls playing).

2012 started well.  At least 2 swifts were seen entering the cabinet box mid-May with at least 2 birds going to roost on 21-29 May during a spell of very good weather.  Second mistake made here:  I decided to stop playing the calls since the nest site had been found.  No calls were played for a week or so, and the weather turned cool and wet.   On Dick’s advice we started playing again in early June.  The rest of the summer in 2012 was frequently cool and wet, the speakers were rained on more than once and no further progress was made.

In 2013 swifts arrived rather late probably due to poor weather conditions in early May.  I switched the call playing system to a Cheng Sheng player with SD card, on a timer, with car ‘tweeters’ attached to the base of the cabinet box, which is much more convenient and reliable.  During this season, 2 pairs became established in the cabinet box, but no breeding took place.  

Fig 3. New boxes designed for local sloping eaves
All of the eaves had the same 22.5° slope.

In 2014 2 chicks were successfully fledged from each of the 2 occupied spaces in the cabinet box at the end of July, and late in the season it was realised that 2 chicks were also being reared in the single Zeist box down the road.  

It turned out that the swifts were having no trouble in accessing that box and 2 young fledged as late as 23 August. In the light of this success, and given the tolerance, support and enthusiasm of the local residents, Dick designed a box suitable for sloping eaves and John Stimpson made them.

Fig 4. New boxes being installed
2 each of these boxes were installed on 5 houses in April 2015 and 4 more Zeist boxes were added close to the single one which had successful breeding [see Fig 6] 

One resident made his own Zeist-type box. A smaller cabinet box with two entrances (again made by Bob Tonks) was attached to the house next door in a similar position to our larger, successful one. This wall also houses the 2 Zeist boxes installed in 2012 and both of these have also attracted swifts in 2015 albeit without nesting [See Fig 5].

Fig 5. Cabinet box with 2 entrances 
(note 2 Zeist boxes at rear)
In 2015 2 chicks fledged from the original Zeist box used last year, a 2nd Zeist box on the same house [Fig. 6] was occupied and also produced 2 young; and as last year, 2 compartments in our 4 compartment cabinet box produced 2 chicks each. 

In all, 8 chicks were successfully fledged in Pettitts Close this year.

The moral of this long story is that persistence does pay off eventually.  Keep playing the calls!  Swifts have been made very welcome in Pettitts Close (there are now 23 nesting opportunities on 8 houses) providing us with tremendous entertainment during the 3 months that swifts are our guests.

Fig 6. House with 1 box originally and
4 added in 2015 (note cramped access)
Fig 7: Our first 2 chicks in 2014