You know summer is really on its way when you hear the swifts arrive back from Africa; the unmistakable joyous screeching cacophony as big gangs of these crescent-shaped birds perform aerobatic displays over the houses in pursuit of airborne insects.
They arrived back in Katesgrove a little later than usual in 2016, around 6 May. People often confuse swifts with the UK’s other summer visitors, swallows and martins, but they can be easily identified by their distinctive scythe-shaped wings and short forked tails. They spend most of their lives flying and only perch to nest; they even breed and sleep on the wing!
Every year a group nests under the eaves of some of the newer housing on the Katesgrove estate. This must be incredibly noisy for residents as the parent swifts fly back and forth to bring food to their young. The birds spend the summer flying, breeding, fledging and feeding and then suddenly in August, they’ve gone!
Occasionally swifts can be found ‘grounded’. These may be fledglings that have fallen out of the nest before they are able to fly properly, or adults who have collided with something. Most swifts are unable to take off from a flat surface because of their long wings and short legs, so as long as the bird is a healthy looking adult, it will need some assistance in getting airborne again.
You can find help for injured or stranded swifts at
- Swift Conservation, which included a list of carers in the UK,
- Commonswift Worldwide, including veterinary help and advice on hand rearing,
- Swift Help.
If you find a grounded swift, first pick it up to protect it from predators such as cats and foxes, then put it in a box and keep it quiet. Swifts are difficult to care for and expert care is needed if it is injured or too young to fly. In this case, you can contact the RSPB or a local wildlife hospital, or one of the organisations listed above.
If the bird appears to be uninjured, then take it to an open upstairs window and hold it out in the palms of your hands. Raise your hands high but don’t throw the bird into the air, and the bird will take off if it can. If all goes well, it will fly non-stop until it returns to breed.