UK Swift Awareness Week by Catherine Day

  • It’s time to celebrate swifts! We are now, in the third week of June, reaching the time of maximum swift presence and swift activity. With hot, sunny weather forecast for the rest of this week and, of course, correspondingly long, very warm, sunny evenings, this is ideal ‘Swift weather’, so keep an eye (and your ears) open for lots of swift activity!

    In particular, watch out for ’screaming parties’ – small groups of swifts in close formation doing exuberant, high-speed low-level flying displays roof level or gutter level, screaming excitedly as they go. Swifts indulge in these aerial displays close to their nesting sites, with non-breeders joining in, simply, it seems, for the sheer fun and enjoyment of it. And why not, as these are the world’s fastest birds in level flight and those with the most aerial existence on the planet! 

    These ’screaming party' flying displays are probably also a form of group bonding as swifts are a social species and ‘colonial nesters’, meaning that they live in loose colonies rather than in widely scattered single pairs each in their own territories. Swifts will, however, defend their own particular nest sites vigorously against any intruders!

    As the weather looks like being so warm and blue this week, you might see lots of swift activity at any time of day. Mornings are often particularly good, but look out especially in the evenings, right up until about 9.30pm at this time of year. If you don’t see any where you live, you stand a good chance of seeing some over central Marlow, where we are lucky enough still to have several small colonies.

    Also, young swifts – one, two and three-years olds – and any adults that have lost their nesting sites will be out and about prospecting for new nesting sites for next year. They can often be seen flying up to the eaves of buildings during the day looking for safe little noooks and crannies. This happens at speed (swifts do nearly all their flying at speed!), with swifts flying right up to the eaves and then dropping away again immediately, or they may zoom past an existing nest site, brushing or tapping a wing briefly against it to see if it is already occupied!

    If you want to explore this amazing species further, here are the main swift websites:




    …..and there are two other articles in the Blog section under the ‘News' menu of our website.

    You can also do an easy and important bit of citizen science by adding your sightings of roof-top-skimming swift screaming parties and swift nest sites to the RSPB’s Swift Mapper:


    Meanwhile, enjoy the weather this week and enjoy your swift-watching and swift sightings! Swifts are an Amber-listed species in the UK, so a special sight at this time of year. They will be with us for one more month before they head off for Africa again.

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