One of the signals of summer that nature affords me every year is the arrival of Swifts after their admirable migration efforts from their winter holidays in Africa. They arrive in late Spring, exhausted and in need of a little recovery before they create their nests, raise their young and then depart with the waning sun before winter arrives again.
Sadly, Swifts are now on the red list – the list of British birds that are under threat of extinction – so it’s more important than ever that people do what they can to encourage and protect them.
Luckily, there are several ways you can encourage and assist Swifts to thrive in your own garden. Firstly, upon their arrival they require plenty of invertebrate insects to refuel themselves. Swifts eat on the go; they catch their prey on the wing so providing a garden which encourages plenty of naturally occurring wildlife is a sure-fire way to encourage them. This can be done by mowing less; encouraging natural wildflower growth and therefore an increase in the insect population. By taking part in No Mow May you’ll be providing food for insects and therefore food for Swifts! Remember, there are no such things as pests in a well-maintained ecosystem – every creature large or small has a part to play. Hopefully it goes without saying that you should not use pesticides in your garden, as this will inevitably kill the Swift’s natural food source and contribute to their decline.
Consider establishing a wildlife pond in your garden, as this also encourages plenty of natural wildlife that Swifts will thrive upon. Currently in my wildlife pond the resident tadpoles and newts are getting fat off the mosquito larvae that are living there; and once these take flight, they will be welcome food for birds especially those which hunt on the wing such as Swifts, Swallows and House martins (House martins sadly being another Red List species!)
Swifts require places to nest – they mate for life and return to the same nest site. You can help them get a head start by providing a nesting spot for them, and there are a few ways to do this. You can make a nest box of your own or buy one ready-made. Alternatively, if you are having any building work done you can ask your builder to install an especially made “Swift brick” which is a special nest box built into the wall of a building with a brick-like frontage and an entryway. Swifts love to nest in colonies, so why not add a few nest boxes or Swift bricks close to each other and enjoy your own Swift colony returning to your home year after year?
If you’ve enjoyed this blog take a look at the RSPB’s website where you can find out more about Swifts, with further information on Swift bricks, nest box building, and how to record the Swifts that you spot in your garden.