Conservation of swifts (Apus apus) in Bristol

Swifts migrate 6000 miles from sub-Saharan Africa to breed in Britain. It was only in 1994, when the Breeding Birds Survey (*) was initiated, that their numbers began to be monitored, and so there are no accurate records of the numbers breeding in Britain before then. However, since 1994, monitoring has indicated an alarming 38% decline in swift numbers, which are now estimated at around 87,000 pairs. As a result, the species has been placed on the Birds of Conservation Concern’s Amber list (denoting a decline in numbers or a contraction of the species’ range). While several factors are likely to contribute to this sharp decline, lost of nesting sites is certainly one. Swifts, which are sociable, and prefer to nest in colonies, have evolved with humans to take advantage of our houses for their nesting sites. They like to nest high up in the roof space under the eaves of old houses and churches. However, modern building design and the refurbishment of old houses has resulted in the loss of nesting sites as access to roof spaces has been sealed off.

In Bristol, a recent survey by Bristol Swift Conservation Group has indicated just 6 small colonies of 2-3 pairs in the Redland area. Our house is one of those, with a small colony of 2 pairs. It is one of the highlights of our year to welcome “our” swifts back in early May, to be able to watch at very close quarters as they enter and leave their nests and to hear their calls (so-called ‘screaming parties’) as pairs within and outside the nest communicate with each other. The skies seem empty when the swifts depart at the end of July.

We can increase the number of known colonies in Redland, by retrofitting swift nesting boxes under the eaves of our houses. Swift boxes can be purchased, or alternatively, you can make your own.

For more information about swifts in general see: http://www.swift-conservation.org/ and https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/swift and http://actionforswifts.blogspot.co.uk/

For information about swifts in Bristol and home-made swift boxes see: http://www.bristolswifts.co.uk/

For a map giving the location of known swift colonies in Bristol in 2016, see: http://www.bristolswifts.co.uk/bristol-swift-colonies/

(*) The Breeding Birds Survey is a joint venture between the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), The Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). The JNCC is the public body which advises the UK government and devolved administrations on the conservation of nature within the UK and internationally.