Swift

©Stefan Johansson

Swift

Scientific name: Apus apus
Nearly always on the wing, the arrow-like swift is a familiar sight on a summer's evening, wheeling around the sky in groups. It mainly nests in older buildings, where it can gain access to nest sites via small holes below the eaves or under tiles.

Species information

Statistics

Length: 16-17cm
Wingspan: 45cm
Weight: 44g
Average lifespan: 9 years

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Amber under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015).

When to see

April to August

About

The swift is a fast-flying and distinctive bird with long, curved wings. Originally nesting on cliffs and in holes in trees, it now mainly nests in buildings, such as churches, and is particularly common in older parts of towns and cities. Swifts spend the winter in Africa, with the first birds usually returning to the UK in April, though most don't arrive until May.

They feast on small flying insects and other airborne arthropods, usually catching them high up in the sky. Insects collect in a special pouch at the back of the swift's throat, where they are bound together by saliva until they form a kind of pellet known as a bolus, which can be regurgitated and fed to chicks. A single bolus can contain over 300 insects, with some holding over 1,000.

How to identify

The swift is black all over, with a small, pale patch on its throat. Looking a bit like a boomerang when in the air, it is very sociable and can often be spotted in groups wheeling over roofs and calling to each other with high-pitched screams. It is larger than swallows and martins (which have white undersides) and, unlike them, does not perch on wires, buildings or trees.

Distribution

A common and widespread summer visitor.

Did you know?

Swifts spend almost all of their lives on the wing, even sleeping, drinking and mating while flying; they only land to nest.

How people can help

Specially designed nestboxes help this species to survive in our towns and villages, where renovation work often blocks the small holes they use to access their nest sites. To discover more about swifts and the range of boxes available, visit www.swift-conservation.org or actionforswifts.blogspot.com

To find out more about encouraging wildlife into your garden, visit the wildlife gardening section of our website, where there are plenty of facts and tips to get you started. To buy bird food, feeders and other wildlife products, visit the Vine House Farm website - an award-winning wildlife-friendly farm that gives 5% of all its takings to The Wildlife Trusts.

Explore more