British affection for the migratory swift


© John Hawkins

Swifts, as a species, generate a lot of public affection in the UK. More so than most other migratory birds.  The evidence for this comes from the existence of over 70 local swift groups around the country. Some have been going for many years.  There is probably one near you.  A list can be found at

Swift conservation is not just a British phenomenon.  There are swift groups in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Spain tracking the nesting places of these wonderful migratory birds.  For example, a particularly active one is the Malaga branch of SOS Vencejos (Vencejo being the Spanish for swift – SOS speaks for itself!).

What do these local swift groups do? Their activities vary but there some common themes. One key activity is surveying the swift population each year in their locality as they arrive from their migration journey. The best time to survey swifts is early to mid-July, when the population is at its biggest, enlarged by juvenile swifts who migrate much later than the adults. After that, the numbers diminish.

A second important activity is working to preserve existing swift habitats by encouraging builders to leave access holes or, if that’s not possible, to fit external swift boxes. For new developments, “swift bricks” are a better solution. More generally, groups – with members leading the way – try to persuade the public at large to instal swift boxes on their houses, preferably immediately underneath hanging eaves and roofs.

Some groups create “swift towers” with numerous nesting boxes in places where they are known to congregate. To attract them, recordings of swift calls are often played, preferably through internally installed loudspeakers (so they think the “other swift” is just next door!).  This technique is effective – but it still takes 2 or 3 years for the swifts to regard it as “home”. A third stream of work is education – organising talks and encouraging teachers to persuade their students to take a practical interest in swift conservation.

Why not engage and join your local swift group?