The arrival of swifts in our town is one of the joys of spring and early summer. The first swift sighting is eagerly awaited throughout the UK and indeed throughout Europe. This year, on April 17th, a member of the Andalucia Bird Society reported ‘a wonderful passage of swifts at Tarifa on the Straits of Gibraltar with thousands of birds passing over’. So, we knew they were on their way and by April 22nd, one swift had been spotted at Waldringfield with a pair over Theatre Street in Woodbridge by April 24th. But the main arrivals were – as usual – from around May 8th onward. From that point on, all of those with swift nest boxes or with swift nests in their roofs were anxiously watching for ‘their swifts’ to arrive. Swifts nest in buildings, so we do have a very close relationship with them. Those with cameras in their boxes could see the touching reunions as the pairs return after a winter apart. Established pairs meet at their previous year’s nest site, meaning that if this site has been blocked or damaged, they may not breed at all unless they can find a new nest site nearby – perhaps one of Woodbridge Swifts’ nest boxes. Sadly, swifts are in trouble. Their numbers have declined by half in the past 20 years, mainly due to the renovations and refurbishments of older buildings. Woodbridge Swifts is working with Save Our Suffolk (SOS) Swifts to try to halt this decline.
This year, many of us are in isolation due to coronavirus and spending more time at home, in the garden and taking shorter, more local walks than usual. It is a joy to observe the wildlife, especially the birds, their calls and nesting behaviour. We hope that, as a positive result, this will be the year when not just the swift enthusiasts but also many others will be aware of the swifts and their marvellous calls and flight.
We ask you this year in particular to look out for swifts. Swifts, with their short tail and long narrow wings, ‘scythe’ shape and uniform black colour, can be distinguished from swallows and house martins by their behaviour. Circling in so-called ‘screaming parties’, especially in the early morning and evening, they dive close to the eaves of buildings, prospecting for nest sites. Noisier than house martins with their white rumps and swallows with their longer tails, swifts are easily identified by their distinctive calls.
You can help swifts in Woodbridge by putting up one or more nest boxes. Woodbridge Swifts can supply these even now. Swifts are colonial, nesting in groups, and are attracted by swift calls. Once you have a nest box you can play a recording of swift calls from close by, using a purpose-built sound system or simply through a speaker from a nearby windowsill. Email Woodbridge Swifts for advice on nest boxes and sound systems.
Over the summer - if you observe a swift nest site in your own roof, another roof or a nest box, please tell us. We are currently aware of about 30 sites in Woodbridge, but there must be many more, so please keep looking out for new ones.
Once sighted, please let us know when you first see the birds and subsequently:
If you are able to record your nest site online, please prioritise the Suffolk Biodiversity Information Service (SBIS) website.
The Council Planning Department consults this site before issuing planning permissions, meaning that your information can have a direct impact on local planning decisions.
The RSPB are also recording swift nests:
and for smartphone users, there is a handy:
Swift Mapper App
If you would prefer to report the nest site to us please give us the details requested above, along with any observations, and we will record it online on your behalf.
We hope for a good summer with plenty of insects, warm, calm weather and some rain to provide perfect conditions for swifts in Suffolk.
Jenny James firstname.lastname@example.org
Eddie Bathgate email@example.com