Bristol Swifts Blog 2017

Bristol Swifts blog of activity and observations of the swift colony around our house in Bristol. For details of the location of each box see Swift nest box location on our house.

Thursday 22nd June

7am. Yesterday was the hottest day for 40 years and I was a on tender-hooks. Reports were coming in from around the country of baby swifts falling out of their nests and/or eggs being ejected. Unfortunately yesterday proved to be a disaster for many with their boxes over-heating. The chicks inside so desperate to cool down venturing far too close to the entrance holes with tragic consequences. The good news is my boxes passed this test. I spent most of yesterday regularly checking each box just to make sure everything was Ok. Sure the chicks looked hot inside but none of them moved towards the entrances holes which was a relief. They were all panting a bit but stayed on or near their nests. Last night the temperature dropped and everything has returned to normal this morning. However I hope we don’t get too many more days like that, far too hot.

Out of the gang of 6 newcomers who’ve been with us for about a week, 3 have claimed boxes. That’s the pair in nb2 west and the single bird in nb6 west. There’s still 3 flying about and I watched them last night trying to enter some of the other unoccupied boxes without success. I’m hoping they might find their way in soon, perhaps in the next few days if I’m lucky.

The scout honey bees also returned yesterday morning but I was ready and waiting. A quick spurt of the spray sent them packing, hopefully they won’t come back.

2.30pm. The first egg has hatched in nb6 north. That’s a new pair who turned up on 20/21st May and laid 2 eggs in early June. The total now moves to 13 chicks in 6 nests with 12 eggs in another 6. Much quieter today activity wise, although in the last hour I have seen 3 birds flying up the the boxes on the west side. Probably the 3 remaining birds from the gang of 6.

Wednesday 21st June

6.30am. The good news is that all the adults returned home safely last night so the sparrow-hawk didn’t catch any of them. However it might have been one of the gang it was chasing so I’ll never know what actually happened. I have new birds in nb2 west. I think it was the new pair from nb3 who just swapped boxes for the night and a new bird in nb6 west. That’s one of my zeist boxes which rarely gets much interest shown in it so I’m well pleased it’s being used. The noisy newcomers turned up on the dot at 5.30am and are doing the rounds, impossible to sleep when they’re making all this noise outside.

Tuesday 20th June

6.30am. Not a very good nights sleep, far too hot. It’s 21c already and our group of bangers are at it again. One thing I have noticed with this extremely hot weather is the eggs are being left unattended more often. Yesterday afternoon most of the birds with eggs were out however as it’s so hot it probably doesn’t make any different to them or do them any harm. Whereas the birds with chicks are having a great time, food is so abundant they’re coming back with large bolases very quickly. So fast in fact that sometimes the chicks are so stuffed they can hardly eat anymore. A bolas is a large gooey plug of insects, sometimes as many as 500 and this is divided up and given to the chicks. In time as the chicks grow they will be given the whole bolas.

9.30am. It’s been quite an eventful morning so far. I’ve had new birds enter 3 unoccupied boxes for the first time, nb4 north and nest boxes 4 and 6 west. Plus our new pair in nb3 west are coming and going into their box at regular intervals, I even saw one of the doing a bit of nest building which surprised me.

10.15am. A second egg in nb1 north. That brings the total to 11 chicks in 5 nests and 13 eggs in another 6.

11am. Just witnessed a male sparrow-hawk chasing 3 swifts. I heard a tremendous sound of wings above my head and when I looked up, there it was about 2 foot behind the third swift. The swift banked steeply sideways and disappeared out of view closely followed by the sparrow-hawk. I don’t think it caught it as the swift seemed more manoeuvrable, but it was close. Now the anxious wait until tonight before I can check if all the adults are safe.

5pm. Shock horror, a group of scout honey bees have been entering all my boxes on the west side. After what happened last year I was up the ladder in a flash with a spray (water & vinegar). It harmless to the bees but the smell puts them off. Anyway they’ve gone now and hopefully they won’t come back. My guess is they’ll swarm sometime tomorrow so I be ready if they do. After they had gone I checked the cameras in the west boxes to make sure the birds were OK and to my surprise found we have a third chick in nb5. How I missed it is beyond me but there you go. New total for the colony now stands at 12 chicks in 5 nests and 13 eggs in another 6.

Monday 19th June A very busy final hour last night just before it got dark. It’s difficult to count exactly how many bangers there were but I reckon between 6 and 10. They entered several unoccupied boxes, mainly on the west side and eventually one roosted in nb3 west. They’re back again this morning, hopefully our newcomer from nb3 will be with them, maybe trying to find a mate to join it?

10am. Our newcomer in nb3 west has just arrived back with a mate? Both are inside the box, although there’s not any allopreening one another at least they’re not fighting. A promising first date.

9pm. Our new pair in nb3 west have just returned back and are cuddled up on the nest allopreening one-another which is a great sign.  I don’t think they’ll breed this year as it’s a bit late, but it looks very promising for next year. Still 4 or 5 noisy newcomers whizzing about so I’m going back outside to see what happens. It’s still 27c which is amazing, I melting just stood still!

Sunday 18th June

5.30am. I can’t sleep with all this activity outside so I’m up already and trying to capture some more on film. Last night was fantastic. I went back outside at 9pm to watch and wasn’t disappointed, the action carried on until 10.30. Even though I saw the bangers enter several unoccupied boxes they seemed more interested in annoying the resident birds. They must have landed on the landing strips to nb5 & 6 north at least a couple of dozen times. The poor birds inside must have been hoarse with having to call back each time. When the bangers are in action I’ve noticed that at least one of the resident birds positions itself in the entrance hole. I can see their white faces peeping out. When the bangers land they are literally face to face shouting at one another.

11.45am. It’s turning out to be a pretty good day. Our female in nb1 north who threw out her eggs on June 3rd when her mate ditched her for another has just laid a new egg. After he went she spent about a week or so trying to attract a new mate and on the 12th June she found one. They’ve been together ever since and this morning all her efforts (and his) paid off. That makes 11 breeding pairs; 11 chicks in 5 nests and 11 eggs in the other 6. There may even be a second egg in nb5 south but I can’t see at the moment as there’s been a bird in there all morning. 

5pm. A second egg in nb5 south. New total 11 chicks in 5 nests and 12 eggs in another 6.

Saturday 17th June

7am. Beautiful blue skies and warm already, it’s going to be a scorcher! Swifts love this type of weather and our gang of 6 have been active since 5.30am. I’m been filming some of their banging activity this morning which I hope to show on the blog later.

10am. The second egg has hatched in nb2 south, that brings the total to 11 chicks in 5 nests and 10 eggs in another 5. Still lots of bangers whizzing around although not quite as intense as it was a couple of hours ago.

1pm. Click on this link to see a video I took this morning of our gang of 6 bangers annoying the neighbours! They been arriving around 5.30am for a couple of days now. They bang the boxes about every 5/10 minutes and carry on doing this all morning till around lunchtime. After that they lose interest a bit only to pick it back up again around 8pm. Great fun to watch though.

9pm. If you’ve tried to look at the link please accept my apologies I forgot to make it public, it should be OK now if you click on it. Thanks Sharon for pointing it out. Still plenty of action tonight plus I’ve seen 3 newcomers enter several unoccupied boxes. As it’s so warm I’m going back outside to watch the action. I might treat myself to a large glass of wine at the same time, pure bliss.

Friday 16th June

6am. The gang of bangers are back again. I saw one enter an unoccupied box yesterday (nb4 west) but it didn’t stay long and never returned to roost in it either. Still it’s a start. It’s the middle of June, the swifts have been here 6 weeks and 10 out of the 20 eggs have hatched. My colony is made up of 11 pairs, 9 have bred and 2 are still thinking about it. They are the new pair this year in nb5 south and our single female who’s just found a new mate in nb1 north. Whether they breed is another matter but they’ve only got another couple of weeks before it’s too late, it’s almost unheard of for them to lay in July.

2.30pm. Our new pair in nb5 south who only arrived on the 29th May have laid their first egg. I was beginning to think they weren’t going to breed this year so to find an egg there was an unexpected bonus. Total 10 chicks in 5 nests and 11 eggs in another 6. In the last few minutes the sun has just come out and it’s warmed up considerably and with it so has the activity. 

Thursday 15th June

5.30am. Got back late last night after a mini break down in Devon. Couldn’t confirm much on the cameras as all the birds were in. This morning our gang of 5 are back very early. It started off with just the 5 whizzing around the house then some of the resident birds came out to join in. So we had quite a large screaming party of 10 or more just a few minutes ago. I was wondering why some of the resident birds did this rather than just stay in their boxes and I think I know the answer. I’ve just witnessed several birds fly up the the entrances of occupied boxes to try to peep inside, however as soon as they land, another bird whose been following, immediately lands on it’s back and drags it away. I suspect it is one of the resident birds protecting it’s own box.

Both eggs have hatched in nb3 north. That’s the box where the male throws the first clutch out in order to get the female to lay again. He’s done it for the last 4 years and I can only think it’s because he’s not sure of the parental validity of those eggs. Thats makes the total 9 chicks in 4 nests and another 11 eggs in another 5.

The good news is our single female in nb1 north is still with her new mate. I do hope she lays again. The latest I’ve ever had eggs laid is on June 26th back in 2013.

2.30pm. The first egg has hatched in nb2 south. That’s 10 chicks in 5 nests and 10 eggs in 5. It was probably one of the best mornings ever for bangers. It started at 5.30am and went right on until 11am, virtually non-stop activity around the boxes. It petered out over lunchtime and some of the resident adults have been taken advantage of this lull in banging activity to bring back feathers they’ve caught on the wing.

Tuesday 13th June

6am. The wind has finally dropped and what a difference. At 5.30am the gang of 5 are back and doing and the rounds like never before, it’s like they got to make up for all that lost time. I’m not complaining though it great to watch.

Some great news from late last night. Our female in nb1 north, the one who threw out her 2 eggs after her mate moved out a couple of weeks ago has found a new partner. When I checked the camera at 10.30 she was snuggled up with him on the nest cup. Perhaps it was the same newcomer who entered nb2 west a few days ago? Now she’s got a new mate the interesting thing will to see if she breeds again, I think it might be too late, but you never know I hope she does.

Looking at the forecast it going to be hot for 2 days then a bit of a lull of a couple of days, then hot again. All you with attraction calls get ready to play in earnest as this is when the bangers will be most active.

Monday 12th June

7.30am. All the birds are still in as it’s still quite grey and windy outside. However on the floor of nb5 west there looks like a discarded egg shell, if so then one of the eggs has hatched. I have trouble seeing clearly into this nest because the the angle and position of the camera. I put the eggs down has being laid on the 26th & 28th May respectively. I estimate they will start hatching 21 days after the first egg was laid so I was expecting this to happen on 15th June. If one has hatched now then I must have mis-calculated the days they were laid. More investigation required to confirm what’s going on.

Last night in Countryfile there was a bit about swifts in Belfast which was very interesting. They even showed a clip from inside one of our boxes which was filmed a couple of years ago for Springwatch. What a lovely surprise to see it again on TV, we both nearly fell off the settee when it came on!

9am. Definitely 1 chick in nb5 west, possibly 2. Checking my records they must have been laid when I was down in Devon at the end of last month. I recorded one as being laid on the day I first saw it, which was 26th. In hindsight it must have been laid a couple of days before that either the 23rd or 24th. Can’t get it right all the time! Total 6 chicks & 14 eggs in 9 nests.

10am. Confirmed 2nd chick in nb5 west. The good news is that these two chicks have hatched just as the weather’s meant to improve so they won’t get cold or go hungry like the first two broods did back in early June. Total 7 chicks in 3 nests and 13 eggs in another 6.

Sunday 11th June

10am. The gang of 6 is back again and whizzing around the house. I’ve not seen them enter any boxes yet but they’ve been up to the occupied boxes and peeped in. Our newcomer didn’t roost in nb2 west last night but I still think it’s interested. I think I might play the attraction calls which is right nest to 3 unoccupied boxes on the west side just to see if I can draw one in.

Saturday 10th June

7am. A gang of 3 whizzing around the house and our newcomer has just re-entered nb2 west.

Friday 9th June

9.30am. A slightly better start to the morning weather-wise and this improvement has brought the gang of 5 back. They’re whizzing around the house at the moment, however I’ve not seen them enter any boxes yet. Our newcomer who roosted in nb2 west didn’t return last night, but a single bird did try to get into nb3 south. It spent around 10 minutes just as it got dark trying to get in before eventually giving up and flying off into the night sky. Was this the same bird from nb2 west or another member of the gang?

5pm. Went out for a walk around the Bittern trail at Chew Valley lake, didn’t hear any Bitterns but heard my first cuckoo of the year which made up for it. Whilst I was there I saw hundreds of swifts feeding over the reed beds. They were silently hawking for flies just above head height and in slow motion. It was the closest I’ve ever been to a swift out in the open. I reckon I could have almost touched them if I tried.

Thursday 8th June

7.30am. Our newcomer stayed the whole night in nb2 west, although it didn’t roost in the nest cup. It chose to sleep on the floor next to the entrance, still it’s a start. Now we wait to see if it tries to attract a mate back in, a bit of decent weather would help in that process. Just had a quick look at next weeks weather and it’s looking pretty good from next Wednesday onwards. A ridge of high pressure is forecast, together with light winds and temperatures in the low to mid twenties. More importantly, it’s predicted to be with us for quite a few days as well.  Anyone with empty boxes get ready for the first big wave of non-breeders (bangers) to arrive. Play the attraction calls as loud as you can get away with as soon as you see any activity.

2.30pm. A lot of people on the swift forums are worried about their swifts, asking the question “where have they gone”. If you’ve noticed this as well, don’t panic. Swift activity is directly linked to the weather. The windier,wetter and colder it gets the less activity you’ll see, until sometimes if the weathers really bad you won’t see any at all. This is quite normal. The breeders are still about but you just don’t notice them. They come and go without and noise or fanfare. They won’t waste their energy on displaying not when the weathers poor, all their efforts are concentrated on either feeding themselves or bringing back food for their chicks. The non-breeders (bangers), the ones that make most of the noise, aren’t interested either. They disappear completely, sometimes flying hundreds of miles away to where the weathers better. There has been sightings in the past of these birds flying over to France and Holland for a week or more before returning. The good news is they’ll be back as soon as it warms up.

Wednesday 7th June

10am. A better morning weather wise and most of the birds are out except the ones incubating. It’s taken until now to confirm the third egg has hatched in nb2 north. That’s all the eggs hatched in nb2 north and nb4 south. So that makes a total of 5 chicks in those two nests and 15 eggs in the other 7.

9.30pm. Out of the grey a single swift has just turned up. It first landed on the entrance to nb6 north and then nb1 west. Each time it was greeted by the customary warning calls from the resident pairs inside. It paused for a few moments before flying off. I think it was just working out which boxes were occupied. It then did a quick circuit around the house and flew straight into nb2 west. I’m sure it’s one of the gang which turned up a few days ago. Maybe it’ll try and entice one of the other gang members to join it tomorrow. A very pleasant surprise at the end of a rather disappointing day.

Tuesday 6th June

10am. Blowing a gale outside and the birds are only just venturing outside. However I have managed to confirm the second egg has hatched in nb2 north, possibly the third one as well but it’s difficult to tell. I’m now checking nb4 south as I suspect the second egg has also hatched in there. The pair in nb5 north are still on the nest and I expect to see a second egg there later. So as it stands the total is as follows; 3 chicks with 15 eggs in 9 nests.

The blood-sucking parasite, Crataerina, has just made an unwelcome appearance in nb4 south. Not sure how it got there as the box was clean so I expect it was bought in by a prospector. These are quite large in comparison to their hosts, if it was on a human it would be the size of a shore crab. The take a feed of blood every 2-3 days, starting off on the adults before moving onto the chicks. Most nests contain 1 or 2 and they don’t seem to be that detrimental to their hosts, however I have seen up to 20 in one nest and that can’t be good for either the adults or the chicks.

10.30am. Confirmed the second egg in nb5 north and only two chicks in nb2 north. I just saw one of the adults bring in food and when the sitting bird moved I could see quite clearly 2 chicks and 1 egg. Revised total; 3 chicks and 16 eggs in 9 nests.

12.30pm. Confirmed the second egg in nb4 south has hatched, that’s all the eggs in that clutch. Revised total; 4 chicks & 15 eggs in 9 nests.

2.30pm. To my surprise nb1 south has a third egg in it. It was probably laid yesterday but I failed to notice it because this pair stayed in all day because of the weather. Revised total; 4 chicks & 16 eggs in 9 nests.

Monday 5th June

9.30am. Tipping down with rain and all the birds are still in. It’s forecast to rain all day so I can’t see them going out at all which is a real shame. The first eggs are due to hatch anytime now in both nb4 south and nb2 north, if they don’t go out I won’t be able to see anything. Also the weathers meant to be very poor for most of the week. I hope there’ll be some bright intervals during that time to allow the adults can go out hunting, otherwise the chicks are going to be very hungry indeed. No sign either of the gang of 5, far too wet for them. I won’t see them again until the weather improves which is looking like the end of the week at the earliest.

11.45am. The first egg has just hatched in nb4 south. I can see the discarded shell next to the nest. The bird sitting on the nest is very agitated, keeps fidgeting about and peeping underneath itself. New combined total; 1 chick and 17 eggs in 9 nests.

3pm. The first egg has just hatched in nb2 north. Both the eggs that have hatched today were laid on the 15th May which makes their incubation period 21 days. The normal incubation period varies between 19-25 days. Factors that affect its overall length is the clutch size and the weather conditions. They don’t start to incubate properly until the last egg is laid and the warmer it is the quicker they hatch. 21 days for the first egg to hatch is a bit quicker than in previous years (average 22/23 days) and I’ve put this down the the warm weather in late May. Total;  2 chicks and another 16 eggs in 9 nests

Sunday 4th June

8.30am. My worst fears were realised last night when the female in nb1 north rejected both eggs. This is the box where the male was in a threesome with the female in nb5 north. He was spending the nights in nb1 and the days in nb5.  On May 27th he finally left nb1 and moved into nb5. The female in nb1 continued incubating the eggs for a while but I think she realised a couple of days ago something was wrong. She started leaving the eggs uncovered and spending most of the days outside. Last night she came in around 8pm and threw both eggs out. In our eyes it seems brutal and uncaring, but in nature it makes perfect sense. She knows she won’t be able to bring up the chicks on her own. It’s a waste of her time and energy even to try. Better for the species to ditch the eggs and start again. Her behaviour in the last couple of days changed from broody female to unattached bird status. My guess is she’s endeavouring to find a new mate. Perhaps one of the gang who have been around for the last few days. If she manages to bag one before the end of June there’s every possibility she lay again. Go for it girl!

Revised egg total, down from 19 in 9 to 17 in 8.

10am. The first egg in nb5 north, we now know what our wife-swapper been up to. Egg count up to 18 in 9 nests.

Saturday 3rd June

6.30am. A bright sunny morning and 3 of our new gang are back. They’re banging up against the occupied boxes so loud it woke me up. Every-time the hit the entrance the resident birds respond with a loud scream. I hope this is not going to be a regular thing as one of the boxes is right outside the bedroom window!

No more eggs yesterday so we’re still on 17, however the good news is nail varnish egg is still in place and being incubated.

Two more of the gang have just turned up, back up to 5 now.

11am. A second egg has been laid in nb1 south to go along with the egg I repaired with nail varnish. I’m very pleased to see this second egg as it’ll act as an insurance policy just incase the repaired egg fails. At least one of them should now hatch. That brings the egg total to 18 in 9 nests. I’m also getting a little concerned over the pair in nb1 north. I think the male has abandoned this nest and moved in with the female in nb5 north. That only leaves the female in nb1 and she’s been leaving the eggs uncovered for long periods whilst she goes out hunting. I think the likelihood of one adult bringing up 2 chicks highly unlikely.

11.30am. A second egg in nb1 west brings the total up to 19.

Friday 2nd June

7am. No new birds/pairs roosted last night despite all the banging activity, however there back again now doing the rounds so maybe today?

6pm. A pretty good morning with lots of activity only to peter out just after lunchtime to almost nothing. I’m still trying to work out what the bangers are up to. There is a gang of about 4 or 5 who harris all the local birds. They seem to love chasing my birds back into their respective boxes. They even follow them right up into the entrance hole and even peep inside themselves. This encroachment is always met with a face to face stand-off and noisy rebuttal. You’d think they’d move off to an unoccupied box, but no, they just carry on chasing in the next resident bird in. Typical teenagers nothing better to do!

Thursday 1st June

9am. Lots of banging activity, at least 6 newcomers, I think the non-breeders might have just arrived! These birds are targeting all the boxes by flinging themselves against the entrances. It so loud I can hear it from inside the house. God knows what the sitting birds must think, it must scare them to half to death.

The good news is the egg I repaired is still in the nest in nb1 south despite all the activity outside. Hopefully she’ll lay a second (undamaged) one tomorrow.

12.30pm The second egg in nb6 north brings the total up to 17 in 9 nests. Still lots of noisy activity, I’m sure it’s the non-breeders who’ve just arrived. Despite it raining all day I think a small group of newcomers may have just arrived and are screaming around the house. Our new single bird has just left nb1 west to join them. I don’t tend to play the attraction calls much, but as it’s such a horrible day weather-wise I thought I’d brighten it up with a few loud bursts. The newcomers seem to appreciate it regardless of the rain!

4pm. Hot off the press! Hundreds of swifts arriving over Berry Head, Devon and Portland Bill, Dorset today, looks like they’ve finally made. Flying at around 25mph they should be all over the UK by tomorrow.

5pm. The second swift just arrived. However I think it should have gone into nb4 south, but instead it entered the new box (nb5 south) directly underneath. I expect it will sort itself out in a day or two and return to the correct box. That 2 out of 20 back now.

See 2015 Blog and 2016 Blog for previous years activities and Early 2017 Blog written up to 1st June.

Our Open Garden Charity Days in 2017.

If you like visiting gardens why not come and see our swifts at the same time.

We are opening our garden for charity on two consecutive Sunday afternoons. Come and wander around our wildlife friendly Bristol Garden and see Live video from inside our swift nest boxes. There will be lots of plants for sale together with swift cards and swift DVD – with the proceeds going to local swift rehabber Gillian Westray.

Sunday 25th JuneNational Gardens Scheme – 2-5pm – Admission £3.00.

Sunday 2nd July  – Stoke Bishop Open Gardens – 1-5pm – Admission £5.00 for 7 local gardens.

If you are interested then click on links above or contact us for details.

Copyright © 2017 Mark Glanville. All Rights Reserved.