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SwiftsConservation Project

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About: Swift

Irish Name:            Gabhlán gaoithe

Scientific name:    Apus apus

Bird Family:           Swift

Size:                       Around 16 - 17cm

Weight:                  Around 40g

Lifespan:               Up to 20 years

Food:                     Any kind of flying insects

Swifts are a family of birds with around 100 different species distributed across the globe. Although similar in appearance to Swallows and Martins, the Swift’s nearest relatives are thought to be the Hummingbirds, native to North and South America.

The Common Swift (Apus apus) is the only Swift species that we have in Ireland. It is a small migratory bird (larger than a Swallow, smaller than a Starling) which arrives in Ireland to breed from southern Africa in May and will depart by late August.

Swifts pair for life and breed throughout the country. They are more common in urban areas, building small, cupped nests in small crevices in buildings, as well as in the eaves of houses. Natural nesting sites include holes in trees and cliff crevices, but the species has evolved over time to nest mostly in buildings.

A swift. Picture by Oleg Doroshenko

Common Swift "flight call" - Dean McDonnell

Swifts are site-faithful, meaning they will return to the same nest site for many years. Swifts spend most of their lives in flight, drinking, feeding, mating and even sleeping in the air. Non-breeding Swifts can spend up to a year or more in continuous flight.

If they find themselves on the ground, it can be difficult for them to take off again. Swifts feed on airborne invertebrates (spiders, flies and other small insects) captured in flight. They are among the fastest of birds, with our Common Swift able to reach speeds of over 110km per hour. The Swift’s call is a loud, piercing scream and Swifts will often form ‘screaming parties’ on summer evenings, when 10-20 Swifts will gather in group flight above their nesting area, calling out to each other excitedly.

Sources: A SWIFT STORY FULL - Hannah Bourne-Taylor

Sources: Common swift is a bird that sleeps, eats and drinks during its flight! - The Animal Sounds

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Swifts conservation concern

The Swift is perhaps the most intriguing of our urban bird species. In recent decades, Swift numbers have been falling in many parts of their range and the area in which they are found is shrinking. BirdWatch Ireland’s most recent scientific data show a worrying drop of almost 40% since 2008. Swifts are now on the amber list of birds of conservation concern.

Throughout most of their breeding range, Swifts nest in cavities in walls or in spaces in eaves of houses and old buildings. Because of this, they are a well-known bird in urban areas. They are colonial, which means they nest in groups, or colonies. Swifts nest in every county in Ireland and, while we don’t yet have detailed surveys for every county, it’s thought that numbers are falling in all counties, mirroring national and international trends.

Reasons for the scale of the declines are not fully clear, but we think that loss of nest sites due to building renovations and construction of modern buildings without suitable cavities is a large part of the problem. The impacts of climate change and falling numbers of invertebrate food are also important.


Factors affecting swifts:

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Sources: Saving Swifts Guide by BirdWatchIreland

About: Swift

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Ways to Help:

What can I do?

  • Find your Swifts - to help Swifts it is vital to identify where they nest locally.

  • Leave nest sites undisturbed.

  • Leave access holes accessible to Swifts.

  • Carry out maintenance works on those parts of your house only during September to May.

  • Avoid restricting access

  • Erect specialised Swift nest boxes

  • Let the National Biodiversity Data Centre or your local BirdWatch Ireland Branch know.

  • Cats can catch and kill Swifts.

  • If you find a grounded Swift at your property, follow the instructions given in the ‘Finding Grounded and Injured Swifts’ section of this document.

What actions can public bodies take?

  • Make provision for nesting Swifts 

  • Encourage local Swift conservation projects through funding and other supports.

  • Swift conservation and the provision of nest sites.

  • Planners can recommend mitigation for the loss of Swift nest sites.

  • Public bodies can provide training.

What can my community do?

  • Organise a nesting Swift survey.

  • Maintain Swift nest sites.

  • Identify buildings.

  • Organise a Swift Awareness Event.

  • Plan and undertake a Swift nest box project.

  • Encourage building owners to protect Swifts.

  • Develop projects to help Swifts.

  • Document your work and report on your efforts 

  • Report to BirdWatch Ireland 

  • Make submissions to the local authority

  • Ask local businesses to help

  • Suggest ways for local schools to help.

What actions can public bodies take?

  • Make provision for nesting Swifts when designing new buildings

  • Add extra Swift nesting places to buildings

  • Invite Swift expert groups to your offices

  • Encourage clients to make provisions for Swifts in their buildings.

  • Large-scale projects such as developing a commercial campus can include provision for nesting Swifts and take wider ecological considerations into account during the landscaping phase.

  • Promote your company as ambassadors for Swifts and wildlife. 

For more detail information refer to Saving Swifts Guide by BirdWatch Ireland

Sources: Saving Swifts Guide by BirdWatchIreland

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Project: Installing Swift Boxes in Dundalk Town

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Advice: finding grounded and injured Swifts :

Sources: Saving Swifts Guide by BirdWatchIreland

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Useful links and Swifts groups

Useful Links:

Swift groups:

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Sources: Saving Swifts Guide by BirdWatchIreland

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