Coming to a sky near you: swifts!
These aerial acrobats visit Scotland from their wintering grounds in Africa for just over three months each summer to breed – arriving in early May and leaving in August. They are a familiar sight in towns and villages on fine summer evenings when they gather together in ‘screaming’ parties, flying at speed around the buildings where they nest, before ascending into the twilight sky to sleep on the wing unless incubating eggs or brooding young. These remarkable birds also eat and mate on the wing, never perching on wires like swallows or house martins; in fact the only time they land is when raising their chicks.
Originally a tree nesting species, swifts now depend almost entirely on our buildings for nest sites, using gaps in stonework behind down-pipes or under the guttering.
Swifts pair for life and are faithful to one nest site, returning year after year, meeting up again each spring at their specific nest site. Unlike swallows and house martins, swift nests have no external structure and indeed consist of little more than a few feathers and straw glued together with saliva, which causes no structural damage to property.
Sadly, numbers of this summer icon are falling. Nests are being lost due to over-zealous renovation and demolition, new buildings deny access to swifts and when a changing climate is added to the mix, the result: Scotland’s swift numbers have fallen over 60% in the last twenty years.
However, Stanley Swift Group has recently managed to erect three new swift nest boxes on Stanley and District Village Hall, in a bid to help these wonderful birds. Unsure whether recent insulation works would have blocked off three known swift nest sites, the group decided urgent action had to be taken to ensure the birds had a home to return to this May. The group was extremely lucky to have the generous donation of a cherrypicker from Les Scott of Alba Platforms, Lynton Farm, Stanley to erect the boxes. Co-ordinator of the works, Elspeth Coutts, said ‘I am really pleased we were able to do this in time for the swifts’ return from Africa. It would have been extremely sad if the birds had no nest site after a 5000 mile journey and we at Stanley Swift Group are keen to do everything we can to help these amazing birds. Next week, volunteers from Stanley Swift Group hope to put further swift nest boxes up at the village hall and other sites around Stanley which would not be accessible without the use of the cherrypicker which Les is so kindly lending to our community project. We could not be more grateful to him for this invaluable help.’
In spite of the decline of swifts in Scotland, Stanley is still an excellent location to see swifts, with the group recording thirty nest sites last year. However, extra help is always needed and the group is looking for more people to help with surveys in the village, along with sponsorship to purchase nest boxes or nest cams. If you would like to get involved in any way, please contact Daniele Muir, Chair of the Tayside Swifts Interest Group on dmuir@taysideswifts.co.uk or email the Stanley Swift Group at Stanleyswifts@yahoo.com
If you are outwith Stanley and would like to help swifts, please get in touch with Daniele on the address above.