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Swift search a screaming success

Thousands of people reported the unmistakable screams of swifts around their roofs last summer to the RSPB, or told the wildlife charity where they were actually nesting.

The RSPB wants to develop a detailed ‘inventory’ of specific locations that swifts are using to raise their families so they can focus efforts to help our rapidly declining swift population.

The results from the first year of data collection show that the swift strongholds are in older parts of our cities, towns and villages, although they will use new buildings too.

And for the first time, the results drill down the exact buildings they are nesting in and what sort of developments they use.

Of the houses where swifts were nesting:

– Over half (51%) were built before 1919

– Exactly a quarter were built between 1919-1944

– Over half (52%)had been known swift nesting sites for more than 10 years

– Almost a fifth (16%) were considered threatened

And almost 5% of swifts were recorded in churches, proving how ideal old buildings are as swift nesting sites. Many churches are undergoing preservation work which could unintentionally cause the loss of nesting sites, so church groups can help this fantastic bird too.

The remaining 20% of swifts were spotted in buildings like schools and flats.

Swift numbers have declined significantly in recent years. It’s not yet clear why, but the RSPB believes that many suffer as a result of the loss of nest sites through building improvement or demolition.

They nest almost exclusively on buildings, and one of the main action points will be for the RSPB and swift groups to speak to developers, local councils and building companies about how they can help retain or replace nest sites.

Swifts may be summer visitors but the RSPB is asking us to start preparing for their arrival in plenty of time. Their nests are protected by law whilst in use, so make sure you carry out any repair work or maintenance on your home before they arrive in mid-May, or after they leave in mid-August.

It’s really important to do whatever you can to keep any sites that swifts use intact, and in new buildings, new nest sites can easily be provided.

Sarah Niemann, RSPB Species Recovery Officer says: "The scream of the swift marks the start of the summer for many people. To think that we are losing them at such a fast rate is devastating.

"It was imperative that we find out exactly where they nest in the UK so that efforts to help them can be effectively targeted. This is the first time we’ve had swift data available on this scale, and it’s a great start.

"Now we want to continue building these records, which will make a huge difference to the future of swifts in the UK.

Emma Teuten, RSPB Data Management Officer, says: "Mapping the results has been a massive undertaking due to the huge numbers of people that took part.

"The results will enable us to do even more positive work to halt the decline of the swift and enthuse people to help the swift – such as those who actually have them living close by or may be planning that could affect existing nest sites.

"These are birds that don’t touch down for two years or more after they first leave the nest– we need to ensure they have a safe, secure nest site to settle in when they come down to breed themselves. Swifts are very site faithful, so once they move in, then the same site may be used for many, many years.

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