Bristol Swifts 2020 Blog

These are my observations and thoughts about my swift colony in Bristol from Monday 18th May 2020. My first swift arrived back on 23rd April. My early 2020 swift blog can be found here as we needed to create a new page. We have 25 nesting boxes many fitted with cameras – for their exact location see Swift nest box location on our house. In 2019 we had 15 breeding pairs of swifts.

Sunday 12th July

9.30am update. More bad news. I have found two more dead chicks – one inside nb12 west and the other underneath nb3 north. Without doubt the culprit was that prolonged spell of bad weather that went on and on. It’s now taking a heavy toll on both chicks and adults alike. It is definitely turning out to be a bad day, as I have never had so many chicks die in one day!

7am I’m not sure what’s going on with the abandoned chick I was given that I fostered into nb4 south on Friday. I thought it had settled in well, but yesterday afternoon I found it at the bottom of the garden. Maybe it just wasn’t getting enough food and decided to try and fledge early. I’m worried that if I put it back into a box it will come out again and injure itself. I think I will hand feed it for a while.

Sad news I found one of the chicks I fostered in nb6 north dead on the ground this morning. It has been in that box since last Tuesday and everything seemed fine. I saw all three chicks in that box being fed, so I’m not sure why it died. Perhaps the foster parents were struggling to find enough insects to feed them? Not a good start to the day at all.

On a cheerier note with blue skies this morning I am hoping to film some swift action outside to put on the blog tomorrow.

Saturday 11th July

Waking up this morning at 6am to the calls of swifts screaming around the house, oh how I’ve missed that sound! There must be a dozen whizzing around. I think they are all my non-breeding pairs. The sun is out and there’s not a cloud in the sky, it could be a super swift morning.

Yesterday I fostered Squealer in nb6 north. I gave him/her two really good feeds first and placed it in around 9am. Squealer is 20 days old and in nb6 north is a single slightly older chick by four days. It took Squealer around an hour to finally cuddle up to its new foster sibling, but by lunchtime they were sitting next to one another on the nest. I can’t tell if it had any feeds because as soon as an adult enters the box they both fly off the nest to greet it and frustratingly it’s just out of camera view. But judging by the speed Squealer goes I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it got its fair share. The LH photo below is of the single chick in nb6 north. The middle one is me just putting Squealer in and the RH photo is an hour later of them both cuddled up together. Squealer is the chick at the bottom of that picture with white flecks on its feathers.

For the rest of the day I fed the other chick I was looking after. Unlike Squealer who was easy to feed this one was very different. It didn’t beg and refused to open its beak, so unfortunately I had to force feed it. I don’t like doing this at all, but sometimes it’s the only way. Anyway by tea-time after 8 or 9 feeds I decided it was time to try and foster it. I had planned to foster on Sunday but it was obvious it wasn’t happy and I think I was doing more harm than good. I had chosen to put it in nb4 north. In that box are two chicks about 4 weeks old. Judging by the length of its wing feathers I reckon it was about the same age. I put him in and he was immediately accepted by both chicks. Within an hour they were all preening each other which is an excellent sign. It was much more active and alert than when I was looking after it. And the really good thing was as soon as an adult entered the box it shot of towards it for a feed. This photo taken this morning shows the three chicks in nb4 north. The foster chick is on the left at 9 o’clock.

The pair in nb3 south rejected their eggs yesterday. I thought this might happen as they hadn’t been incubating them at all. Also when I fostered the chick into nb4 south I found two more smashed eggs under nb11 west. That box was occupied by newcomers in June. They’ve obviously given up as well. However there was some good news. In another non camera box nb6 west, there are chicks because I could hear them trilling as I walked underneath. That’s a first for this box.

And finally we’d like to say how lovely it was to meet Sarah and Dave and their kids Ted and Milly who came over to look at our swifts yesterday. Sarah is like me, she’s been bitten by the swift bug. I told Dave that unfortunately there’s no cure and the symptoms only get worse over time! They got to see some swift action and the little chick I was caring for. However I think Ted and Milly were more interested in Rob my tame robin, who they fed several times. Rob never shies away from a potential meal and is more than happy to oblige. He’s such a show-off around kids!

Friday 10th July

Yesterday a small swift chick that had fallen out of its nest was brought to me. Looking at the length and development of its feathers I would say it’s about 4 weeks old. It should weigh around 45g but this one weighed only 23g. It looks severely undernourished and probably hasn’t been fed for some days. Luckily though it didn’t break any bones in its fall and despite being abandoned looks reasonably OK. More than likely one or both parents have deserted  the nest. Unfortunately this seems to be a common occurrence this year. I know of another colony locally where four dead chicks have been found on the ground beneath their nests. I’ve managed to give it a few feeds and will continue to feed it over the weekend. If I can get its weight back up I have two potential boxes I could try to foster it in.

I’m going to foster Squealer into nb6 north later on today. He or she now weighs 53g and is 3 weeks old. I also weighed the chick that was brought in yesterday. The great news is it’s also put on a little bit of weight. It was only 23g when I first received it but now it’s gone up to 26g. It’s not a huge increase, but it’s definitely going in the right direction. The LH photo is of Squealer (who got a bit excited!) and the middle photo is of the rescued chick and the RH photo of both of them in their temporary nest.

Thursday 9th July

Yesterday was a much quieter day thank goodness, with no new panics overnight meaning I had time to relax. The weather wasn’t quite as bad as they had forecast either, so all the adults were out collecting food. That meant all their chicks were fed at least a few times each. Although I’ve fostered a few chicks over the years it always amazes me how quickly the foster chicks settle in. Looking at all the ones that I’ve just fostered you couldn’t tell them apart from the other chicks in the nests.

Something is puzzling me about nb3 south. That’s the very late pair that have only just laid eggs. The first egg appeared on 1st July and the second on 4th July. Normally as soon as the clutch is complete they start to incubate their eggs, but not in this box. They both go out first thing in the morning and don’t return until dusk. They’ve been doing this for the last 5 days now. Perhaps it’s the poor weather conditions or maybe it’s because the female is inexperienced. I’m pretty sure she is a first time breeder. I don’t really know why. What I do know is if they carry on like this for much longer both eggs will die. The eggs can tolerate a certain amount of time being left uncovered, but this is really pushing it. Deep down I think the pair have given up. I hope I’m wrong.

Surprising I had a few birds whizzing around the house yesterday morning. I’m not sure if they are genuine newcomers or some of my non-breeders, but it was a most welcome sight nevertheless. I can’t wait until the weekend. Finally the weather is forecast for summer to begin again and it couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment. I expect the third wave (yearlings) to arrive as soon as it warms up. Plus the non-breeders (two year old birds) should also return. We should all see a marked increase in activity, something that has been sadly missing these past few weeks. And the really great news is there is still time for birds to take up residency for the first time, all in all it could be a super couple of weeks.

And finally, when I checked all my cameras last night to my delight, two of my ‘missing’ birds had returned. The single adult in nb5 south, that’s the bird who deserted its eggs on 26th June and the adult in nb1 west who abandoned its chicks on Tuesday. Part of me is sad because they’ve lost their young, but part of me is happy that they’re still around. Hopefully they’ll find new mates soon, maybe even before they leave. But the really good thing is they should return next year to the same boxes and have another go.

Wednesday 8th July

Yesterday my intentions didn’t go as I first planned, but in the end they all worked out OK. Firstly I thought I would only have to foster one chick from nb1 west, but that all changed as the day progressed. The remaining adult in nb1 west left early in the morning and didn’t return. I waited in hope that it would come back, but by late afternoon it was obvious it had deserted the chicks. Now I had two chicks to foster instead of one! Whilst I was waiting I was also watching the three potential foster boxes. In those three boxes are pairs of chicks exactly the same age as the two I needed to foster now. I came to the conclusion that nb5 north and nb5 west were the best suited. Both pairs of adults in those boxes made the most returns with food. Around 5pm I removed the two chicks from nb1 west. Both were literally crawling with Crataerina, the parasitic louse fly. I must have removed at least a half a dozen from each chick. I’ve never seen such badly infested chicks before and I wonder if this was the reason the adults deserted? Once they were clear of Crataerina I weighed them – one weighed 23g the other 21g.

The first foster box was nb5 north. In that box were two chicks. Unfortunately they had one or two Crataerina on them as well, so it made sense to remove them first before I placing the foster chick in. At the same time I also weighed them. This was the second unforeseen problem I wasn’t expecting. Whilst one chick was exactly the same weight as the foster chicks weighing in at 23g, the other was a massive 35g. It was obvious it was the dominant chick. It made no sense putting a smaller, weaker foster chick in that nest. However it did make sense to put both the foster chicks in and remove the larger chick. If only I could find another box with chicks the same weight as the larger chick. Luckily nb5 west turned out to be a perfect match. The two chicks in there weighed 33g and 35g. So that’s what I did. I removed the large chick from nb5 north and fostered in it nb5 west and in its place in nb5 north I put the two abandoned chicks from nb1 west. It wasn’t exactly what I had originally planned to do, but it seemed the best solution in the circumstances.They all settled in very quickly and in no time at all they were being fed by their foster parents. The LH photo is of nb5 north showing one adult brooding the 3 chicks. The RH photo is nb5 west showing both adults brooding the three slightly larger chicks.

Squealer the chick I am looking after is doing great. I’m planning to foster it in nb6 north either on Friday or Saturday once the weather improves. There’s only one chick in that box. It’s slightly older and bigger than Squealer at the moment, but Squealer is growing so fast I think it will be the same size by the time I foster it.

Tuesday 7th July

It looks like another adult has gone missing. Last night only one returned to nb1 west. That box contains two chicks, one hatched on 22nd June and the other on 26th June. Luckily I have 3 boxes with chicks in them that all hatched around 21st/22nd June. My only slight misgiving is they all contain 2 chicks already. I’m hoping the missing adult will return this morning, but If I do foster a chick it means making up a brood of three. In good weather each parent should bring back at least 7 or 8 feeds, hopefully more. By adding a third chick means a slight reduction in feeds for the two resident chicks, but more importantly an increase in feeds for the foster chick. It’s not an ideal solution, but it’s better than leaving one adult to raise two chicks. I’m going to monitor the three potential boxes to see which adults are the most productive. If I have a pair of stand-out birds then that would be the ideal box to foster the larger chick into. I’ll probably have to make the decision whether to foster later on today as the weather’s meant to be wet on Wednesday and Thursday.

Worryingly it’s not only my colony that this seems to be happening too either. I’ve received reports from others who monitor swifts across the UK most saying that they’ve lost breeding adults as well. As it’s widespread it’s more likely to be the result of the weather rather than predation by Sparrowhawks or the like.

Monday 6th July

Squealer the little chick I removed from nb2 north on Thursday is doing remarkably well. It weighed 23g when I first started to hand feed it and today it weighs 40 grams.

It has a tremendous appetite. I feed it every 2 hours with a mixture of live crickets,wax worms and flies to achieve a maximum of 8 feeds a day.  Its eyes are now fully open and fluffy feathers are appearing all over its body. It’s beginning to look like a baby swift although it still has a long way to go! My aim is to foster it back into another box by the end of this week. The box I have it mind is nb6 north as that box contains only one chick.

In the photos below the LH picture is of the chick in nb6 north. It’s slightly older than Squealer and has a few more feathers, but other than that they are roughly about the same size. It looks like a high pressure will build in next weekend making conditions ideal for the adults to collect food. The key to a successful fostering is to try and match the chicks in size and age. What you don’t want is one large chick hogging all the feeds.

Hand-rearing is quite tricky, not to say time-consuming and expensive so is best left with specialize Swift carers if possible. I’m following the Swift Conservation website guidelines on ‘The hand-rearing of Common Swifts’ by Hilde Matthes and Gillian Westray. Essential reading for anyone thinking of hand-rearing a baby swift. Adult swifts make superb foster parents so the prefered option is to try and rehome an abandoned chick if you can. I’m lucky in that sense as I can normally find a suitable box to take a foster chick.

Squealer has no trouble at all eating, if anything it doesn’t know when to stop! Jane filmed this short video yesterday of me feeding it.

Sunday 5th July

On Friday morning I looked into nb3 south to see if another egg had been laid. The first was laid on 1st July and a second was due. To my dismay instead of seeing a second egg the nest was empty. It had been knocked out of the nest during the night and was lying a few inches away on the floor. When I say nest that’s a bit of an understatement as well. It’s not really a nest at all, just a few feathers stuck here and there. The reason why they hadn’t built anything new was because they were so late breeding, prefering to use the remains of last years old nest. The resident bird lost it’s old mate and didn’t find a new partner until 15th June. I’m also pretty sure that the new bird is a young female. I expect this is her first attempt at breeding, so she will be quite inexperienced. It’s not uncommon for first time breeders to knock their eggs out by accident. So I wasn’t surprised to see the egg displaced. Once the birds had gone out I took the box down. I removed the egg, checking that it wasn’t damaged and placed it in a safe place whilst I set about rebuilding a new nest. I always keep a few soft feathers around as spare nesting material. A few handfuls of feathers and a quick spray of adhesive and in no time I had made a brand new, fully feathered deep concave nest. Gently placing the egg back in the nest I carefully refitted the box. My reward, a second egg on Saturday morning. The LH photo below shows the first egg in the original threadbare nest on Wednesday. The middle photo is after I rebuilt the nest on Friday. The RH was taken Saturday morning. I’ve done as much as I can to help from now on it’s now down to them. Hopefully the concave is deep enough to keep both eggs safely inside.

The chick I removed from nb2 north on Thursday is doing really well. I reluctantly had to remove it after one of its parents went missing. We’ve named it Squealer as it calls out as soon as it hears us enter the room and continues calling until it is fed. I’ll write more about Squealer in tomorrow’s blog. A single adult swift can easily raise one chick on its own, but not two. The great news is the chick I’ve left in the box is doing remarkably well. Below is a poor photo taken last night of that chick with the single adult in nb2 north. The chick has just been fed and the adult is on top of it keeping it warm. Despite the awful weather it’s managing to find enough food to keep it going.

Saturday 4th July

Yesterday’s weather was poor again, becoming increasingly breezy and wet as the day progressed. When conditions deteriorate like they did yesterday afternoon it makes it very difficult for the adults to find enough insects feed their young. In fine weather they can usually find enough food within an hour, but in unsettled conditions it’s taking them two or three times as long. Their chicks can put up with a few days of reduced feeds, but when it goes on for too long then that’s when it starts to have a detrimental effect on them. The good news is Monday is looking much drier and brighter, as does most of next week.

In the LH photo below are the two remaining chicks in nb4 north. I removed the larger dominant chick from this box and fostered it in nb1 north. Without the dominant chick to compete for food both chicks received several feeds. I think these were the first feeds the smaller of the two chicks (seen on the RH side) had received in the last couple of days. It’s looking much better than it did on Thursday.

The RH photo above is of the dominant chick from nb4 north. I moved it into nb1 north which only had one chick in that box. In the photo it’s on the LH side with the resident chick on top of it keeping it warm. You can see both of them are very similar in size. It can’t bully the resident chick like it was doing to its two smaller siblings in nb4 north. Being the same size meant they both received an equal share of feeds. It has settled in really well and both of them are fine. Looking at both sets of chicks I think I made the right decision by intervening when I did, especially as the weather for the next two days is meant to be more like autumn than summer!

Friday 3rd July

The weather was poor again yesterday and that restricted the time the adults were out feeding. I watched the single adult in nb2 north to see how many feeds it was bringing back in. It didn’t leave the box until past 11am and then took over 2 hours to return with its first feed. By early evening it had only brought in 3 feeds, not enough to feed to two chicks by a long way. They should be getting between 6 to 8 feeds each a day. The weather forecast for the next 3 days is also meant to be bad, so I can’t see any real improvement in the number of feeds. If I do nothing the weaker chick will definitely perish over the weekend. I therefore decided the best course of action was to remove it. It is only 11 days old and its eyes are still closed. However it looks in pretty good shape despite the lack of feeds. It weighs 23g which is a good weight. The single adult should be able to bring in enough food for the bigger chick. The smaller chick I shall hand feed for a few days. Once I’ve built up it’s strength and size I will try to foster it into another box.

I was also really concerned about the two smallest chicks in nb4 north. That box has 3 chicks in it. They hatched on consecutive days in early June on 5th, 6th and 7th. The first to hatch had over time become very dominant and was now taking the majority of the limited number of feeds being brought back in. It was much larger than the other two and would push them over whenever an adult returned with food. The middle chick if it was lucky would occasionally get a feed, but the youngest and smallest chick wasn’t getting any feeds at all. This is another consequence of bad weather. Even with both adults in attendance trying to find enough food in poor weather is still a struggle.

Luckily I have another box, nb1 north with only one chick in it, and by sheer good fortune it is exactly the same age and size as the dominant chick in nb4 north. So yesterday afternoon I removed the dominant chick from nb4 north and placed it into nb1 north. I watched both boxes for the rest of the day and all chicks in both boxes were well fed. I really don’t like to intervene if I can help it, but I think it was right in this instance. Without doubt it has helped the chances of the two smallest chicks surviving in nb4 north.

Thursday 2nd July

An unexpected but very welcome surprise in nb3 south yesterday, the first egg. That’s the box where the first bird turned up on 7th May but didn’t find a new mate until 15th June. I thought there might be an outside chance they would breed this year, but to be honest I thought that possibility had gone. See my blog for Tuesday 16th June. They’ll probably lay another egg tomorrow before starting to incubate. I very much doubt they’ll lay three as it’s too late in the season. Therefore based on only two eggs they should hatch around 24th July and the chicks won’t fledge until early September, somewhere around the 8th. That’s very late and with it comes the added risk that one of the adults may have migrated before the chicks are ready to go.

Tempering my joy of a new egg in nb3 south only one adult returned to nb2 north last night – photo below. That box has two chicks in there. One 11 days old and a slightly bigger one, 12 days old. I’m hoping the other bird will turn up today as sometimes one will stay out overnight, although that is rare for birds to do that. A single swift can easily bring up one chick, but it’s a real struggle to raise two especially if the weather is unsettled like it is now. I may have to foster one of the chicks if it becomes obvious there is a problem with one of them. What normally happens in situations like this is the stronger chick tends to get fed first. If only one adult is bringing in food it doesn’t take long for the weaker chick to rapidly decline. I suppose it’s natures way of protecting at least one of the brood. It might seem brutal to us but for them it’s better to raise one chick to fledging than none at all.

Wednesday 1st July

Yesterday the weather was poor again and both adults in nb5 north didn’t go out until 11am. The little chick sadly died before I had chance to intervene. It must have been far weaker than I realised. All in all it’s been a bad couple of days, what with the two eggs failing to hatch and now this. All my birds are very precious to me, so it’s very hard to take when one doesn’t make it for whatever reason. The good news is all the other chicks are in really good shape, so hopefully we won’t lose any more this year. A quick update of where we are now. The colony started out with 29 eggs in 13 nests, but through one thing or another there’s now only 12 nest active nests with 24 chicks in them. I’m not sure why the sudden decline in numbers, but I think the changeable weather has definitely played its part.

I was sent this lovely video which tells the story of a little swift chick that was hand-reared in back 2018. It reminded me of Jack the baby swift I looked after. Watching it certainly helped lift my spirits as I must admit I was feeling a bit down yesterday. Below are a few photos of Jack before we released him.

Tuesday 30th June

The weather wasn’t very good yesterday it was unusually windy and not that warm either, but at least it stayed dry. All the adults managed to get out to collect food. This allowed me the chance to check up on all the chicks. I must admit I’d taken my eye off the ball over the weekend looking after the two rejected eggs. All of the chicks are looking good except one. It’s the third chick in nb5 north. It hatched a week ago on 23rd June two days after the other two eggs. In the first few days I saw it being fed and assumed it was doing well. Normally in clutches of three there is a size difference to begin with as the eggs hatch on different days. Usually by the end of the first week or so they all look about the same size. In this particular nest there still is a marked difference. I watched last night as the two parents returned. They only fed the larger chicks who are much more developed and physically stronger. I shall have to keep a very close eye on this box especially as the weather is meant to be unsettled for the next few days, making it harder for the adults to find food. You can see the size difference in the photo below.

Carrying on the theme regarding the massive swift movements along the East Coast. Yesterday over 45,000 swifts were recorded flying South over Gibraltar Point between dawn until 12.40. Gibraltar Point is a national nature reserve on the coast of Lincolnshire. That number probably included the same birds that were sighted at Filey in East Yorkshire on Sunday morning. So anyone with birds missing that’s more than likely where they are. The good news is they should return to you next week when it warms up again.

Monday 29th June

As both eggs still hadn’t hatched this morning I carried out another torch test. I couldn’t see any movement inside either egg, so unfortunately my efforts to save them was in vain. They had no chance of hatching after they were rejected, but I think I did the right thing by having a go. It’s just a pity there weren’t other nests with eggs in, as then I could have tried to foster them.

On a lighter note yesterday morning there were some extraordinary reports of huge numbers of swifts seen near Filey on the North Yorkshire coast. Mark Pearson’s video shows some of the 16,500 swifts that flew south in a record breaking four hour passage. No one really knows why they congregate in such large numbers along the East Coast in June, but they seem to do it every year. It is thought they are a mixture of yearlings and non-breeding 2 year olds birds. It must be lovely to witness.

Sunday 28th June

I am still waiting for the two eggs to hatch. Hopefully it will be today or tomorrow. Thinking about it they are probably a day or two behind as a result of being left uncovered in the nest on Thursday and on Friday I don’t think I had it quite warm enough in the incubation box. Luckily swift eggs like their chicks can withstand a certain amount of cold by going into torpor. I think that is what’s happened here.

Not only did Len give me invaluable advice on how to incubate eggs properly he also sent me some photos of his latest soffit boxes. He’s cut three holes into his soffit board adjacent to the wall. Directly underneath each hole he has roughed up the brickwork to provide extra grip. I think where you cut the holes is the key to making these type of internal boxes a success. True swifts can fly into holes that are further away from the wall, but it’s much more difficult for them and some eventually give up trying. If you are thinking about making one of these compartments try and cut the hole as tight to the edge as you can. By making the wall into a landing strip it makes these boxes much more likely to be occupied. Inside the loft he’s made three compartments, each containing a raised nest cup. I often get asked by people for advice on how to make soffit boxes. Looking at Len’s new boxes I don’t think you’ll see a finer example of how to make them properly. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he gets birds in them in the coming weeks, they’re absolutely brilliant. Here are a few photos to show you what they look it.

Saturday 27th June

7pm update. Earlier in the day I received a most welcome phone call from Len. Not only is he keen on swifts, but he’s also an expert on breeding exotic birds. He’s given me some superb advice on how to incubate bird eggs. Listening to his advice I’m the first to admit my initial attempts were naive to say the least. I’ve now adapted my incubating box accordingly. I also done the ‘torch test’ on both eggs just as he suggested (basically it involves shining a high power light through the eggs to look inside) and the good news is both eggs have chicks inside. Plus I actually saw one moving which was absolutely marvelous. I feeling so optimistic now that I’ve just gone out and bought enough live food to feed half the chicks in my colony! Watch this space.

I’m still turning the two eggs every couple of hours but nothing to report yet. The first was laid on 5th June and the second on the 7th June. This year the average time it has taken the first egg to hatch has been 22 days and the second egg around 20 days. I start counting the day after each egg has been laid. Based on those averages the 5th June egg should hatch today and the 7th June egg tomorrow. Time will tell if they will and if I’ve done enough to save them.

Some good news the missing adult in nb2 south returned last night. Sometimes when it is very hot an adult will stay out overnight. I think it must get unbearably hot inside the box and the constant begging by the chicks is probably too much for some birds. However the single bird in nb5 south didn’t return. Hopefully it will return in the coming days and fingers crossed bring along a new partner with it.

There was a steady passage of Swifts over Portland Bill during the middle part of last week. It is probably part of the second wave. It’s a bit early for the third wave (yearlings) as they don’t usually arrive until mid July. Unfortunately just as they are returning the weather has changed and looking at the forecast it doesn’t warm up again until next weekend. I don’t think we’ll see much activity from them for a while.

Simon Bament sent me a lovely little video clip of a swift entering one of his fathers boxes. His Dad loves swifts and Simon made him a couple of boxes a few years ago. He managed to film them entering for the first time – see this video.  He doesn’t play swift calls and seeing that clip got me thinking. I always advise people to play the calls to attract their first swifts, but I’m beginning to wonder if sometimes maybe it pays to leave them off every now and then. Maybe some swifts like it to be quiet when they are prospecting.

Friday 26th June

Regrettably my worries were proved right. One adult is missing in nb5 south. The other one did return at 9.15pm last night, but instead of sitting on the eggs moved away and sat near to the entrance. The eggs are due to hatch either today or tomorrow. If I left them in the box they would perish, so I removed them at 11pm. I’ve put them into a makeshift incubator, basically it’s a small nest in a flowerpot with a desk lamp positioned over them to keep them warm. I’ve been getting up every 2 hours to turn them. I’m not sure if it will work, but it’s worth a try. If I had left them in the nest the single bird would have thrown them out probably today. Hopefully it will find another mate before the seasons out, but it won’t breed again this year.

A quick update of the status of my breeding pairs. 13 nests produced 29 eggs, 26 hatched. 1 egg was addled and 1 chick later died. 2 eggs are in the incubator.  At the moment there are 25 chicks in 12 boxes.

Whilst watching what was happening in nb5 south last night I also checked all my other cameras. I noticed there was only one adult was in nb2 south. There are 2 chicks in there about 2 weeks old. I’m hoping it will return today or I may have to foster one of the chicks into another box. One adult can easily bring up one chick, but it’s a real struggle to raise two. Luckily I have a box, nb6 north with only one chick in and by sheer good fortune the chick is exactly the same age. If I have to foster one of the chicks I’ve got an excellent foster box to move it to. Not a brilliant end to yesterday at all, let’s hope today is a bit better.

Thursday 25th June.

8pm. Something not quite right in nb5 south. That’s my last box with eggs in. I’ve not seen an adult in there since early this morning. Both eggs are due to hatch tomorrow and they’ve been left uncovered now for over 10 hours. I’ve had a quick read of David Lack’s book on swifts and he says it’s not uncommon for birds to leave their eggs uncovered, especially when the weather’s very hot. I just hope he’s right this time.

It’s forecast to be a scorcher today. I’m hoping the swift activity will also be on fire as well. Looking out of the window at 6am I saw at least 15 birds whizzing around. The Magpies in the cherry tree next door were making a deafening racket. About half a dozen of them have worked themselves up into a frenzied state and the reason why. A fox just beneath them was eating the cherries that the Magpies had knocked down.

We spent a very enjoyable evening yesterday in a beautiful garden situated in rolling pastures next to a small reservoir. Tim and Sandy’s house in Litton is surrounded by wildlife and they particularly love their birds. They’ve got 7 pairs of House Martins, a pair of Swallows and very recently 3 pairs of Swifts. They’re relativity new to swifts, but boy have they made an effort to catch up. We first met them a couple of years ago after they had put up a few boxes and wanted some advice. There were a few swifts locally, but none really near to them. Well all that has changed now. We watched 9 swifts and sometimes even more than that scream around their house. We’re pretty sure they have got two breeding pairs and a pair of non-breeders, plus a handful of noisy newcomers as well. Not bad when you consider they had no swifts nesting a couple of years ago. Tim has been busy and the number of boxes has risen to 17 and there are even more planned! There’s no reason why all their boxes won’t be used in time and they have the potential to turn their house into a super colony. It’s the first time we’ve been out in the evening since March. Just sitting there watching the Swifts, Martins and Swallows in their garden whilst having a glass of wine and eating freshly baked focaccia was quite magical. It felt like we were on holiday.

Wednesday 24th June

I was extremely lucky yesterday evening and saw something I don’t normally see. Just after 7pm I thought I’d check the camera in nb5 north to see how the third egg was doing. The fortunate thing was because it was so hot the adult bird had moved off the nest to cool down. I could see the newly hatched chick. It was half out of the egg. Its little wing and leg was still inside. I managed to film a few seconds before the adult moved back on top again. The big chick next to it hatched on Sunday and the other slightly smaller chick on Monday. Here’s the video. I watched the other adult returned with a big food bolus. To my surprise the newly hatched chick was fed three times, the big chick twice and the middle chick once.

That takes the total number of chicks to 25. All the eggs in 12 out of the my 13 boxes have hatched. The eggs in nb5 south are due to hatch on Friday.

A much better day yesterday regarding swift action. Lots of banging and screaming fly-bys. I’m sure I have at least another three newcomers, possibly more. I watched them until after 10pm last night as they buzzed the boxes before disappearing into the night sky. I think today could be even better.

Tuesday 23rd June

Slightly more activity yesterday but not as much as I’d hoped. It was a bit warmer than Sunday but the wind was still quite fresh, so I think that pegged the action back. This morning however is looking much better. Blue skies and no wind. It has the potential to be a very good day. Now all I need is the non-breeders to return. I’ve not seen any real banging activity for over a week now. I’m sure the newcomers are still about, but were staying quiet whilst the weather was unsettled. Looking at Trektellen there’s been some sizeable swift movements along the East coast of the UK over the past few days. Just out of interest I checked their records for last June see this link. You can see then and again now that swifts move down the East coast of England in June. They seem to travel in an anticlockwise direction, North to South which I think is odd. Why are these birds doing this and where are they going? It’s a mystery, but they seem to do it every year in June. I don’t think it’s anything to do with the weather conditions. I think it’s probably something to do with their migration time clock that seems to draw them here at this time of year. My guess is they are mainly non-breeders. Are they part of the second wave or maybe the beginning of the third wave? So many unanswered questions.

Yesterday was a super hatching day. Four eggs hatched out – 2 each in nb1 west and nb12 west – taking the number of chicks to 24. There’s only 3 eggs left to go now.

22nd June

We want to say a big thank you to everyone who came and supported us yesterday, some who had travelled very long distances. We think in total we raised over £750 for NGS charities, which with our visitors generosity exceeded our expectations. We had a lovely day chatting to all our new friends. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t ideal for swift activity and the screamers were largely absent. However most people saw a few birds coming and going. We managed to set our laptop up, so they could see the adults with two chicks inside our Springwatch box. We couldn’t have coped without the help of our swift friend Simon Bament, who’s not only very knowledgeable about swifts but after yesterdays stellar performance can always get a job selling plants (except for the gooseberry bush!)  Here are a few photos of our visitors both young and old, who all hopefully had a good time and learnt a little bit more about swifts.

When I checked my cameras last night I found another 3 eggs had hatched. The second one in nb5 north and both eggs in nb5 west. That takes the number of chicks to 20. Only 7 eggs left to go now. It’s meant to be really good weather this week, so I expect the swift activity around my house to be super. Let’s hope the screamers return again! If you’re ever passing by this way, ring on the doorbell and come in and see us.

Sunday 21st June

7.30am update. The first egg has just hatched in nb5 north. That takes the number of chicks to 17.

Yesterday went reasonably well considering the recent weather conditions we’ve had. The overnight rain stopped just before we opened and the sun eventually came out, albeit being a bit breezy. There was a bit of swift activity, but not as much as I’d hoped. I think it was just too cool and windy for them to get really going. However Rob, my tame Robin and Wrenkin, my tameish Wren made several appearances which was really good. We raised quite a bit of extra money from our plant sales, so all in all not a bad morning. We’d like to thank everybody who came and supported NGS charities.

It tipped down with rain overnight, but luckily it’s passed over. The skies are just starting to brighten up, so it’s looking like a repeat of Saturdays conditions. Maybe if the sun comes out a bit more we might get a some more swift activity. Let’s hope so.

The second egg in nb2 north hatched yesterday taking the number of chicks to 16. Eight out of my thirteen boxes now have chicks in. The next eggs to hatch are in nb5 north and are due anytime.

Looking at the weather forecast we’re going to get a mini heatwave from Tuesday. When it arrives that will herald the return of all those missing birds. I think we all could be in for a pretty good swift week. I’ll be ready with my camera to video the action.

Saturday 20th June

The first egg has hatched in nb2 north which takes the number of chicks to 15. A quick update on the status of the colony. In my 17 camera boxes I have 13 breeding pairs and 1 non-breeding pair. In my 8 other boxes I have 1 breeding pair and 3 non-breeding pairs. The 13 breeding pairs produced 29 eggs between them. We have 15 chicks and 12 eggs left to hatch, unfortunately we’ve lost 1 chick and 1 egg was addled.

Yesterday we spent the whole day tidying up the garden. It rained all morning which didn’t help matters. The garden has taken a bit of a battering in the last two days. I know we wanted some rain, but the amount we had was ridiculous! Anyway we’ve done as much as we can in the circumstances, the rest as they say is in the lap of the gods. All I hope is our swifts perform this weekend. Here’s a few photos of our very damp garden!

Friday 19th June

Yesterday was a complete write-off as far as swifts were concerned. It rained from dawn to dusk. It’s virtually impossible for swifts to find flying insects in those conditions. Most of the adults stayed in and those that did venture out took hours to find anything. The consequences meant most of the chicks went hungry. Luckily they are adapted to survive such conditions, just as long as it doesn’t go on for too long. Today is meant to be better so things should quickly go back to normal. The weather for the weekend isn’t quite as good as it was forecast. However it’s meant to stay dry on both days and in the end that’s all that really matters. Thank goodness it won’t be a repeat of Thursday’s weather! Today once it stops raining we’ll give the garden a final once over. Fingers crossed the conditions will be good enough for the swifts to put on a bit of a display. That really would be the icing on the cake.

The question I often get asked regarding new pairs is ‘Will they breed this year?’. From my own observations I’ve found that pairs must have formed before the middle of June to stand a real chance. The earlier they get together the greater the possibility. With new pairs that form in May almost all will breed, but by the time you get to the middle of June the odds are getting less and less. So where does that leave my four new pairs. All four only paired up this week, so it’s near to the cut-off time. If I was a betting man I’d say the pair in nb3 south might do. That’s the box with an older bird from last year in it. As for the other three, it now really all depends on the weather. If we get a spell of warm weather there’s an outside chance they just might. Research has shown that some birds breed earlier in years where there is an abundance of food. In exceptionally warm summers some first time breeders can begin to lay right up into early July.

Thursday 18th June

Despite being very warm and humid yesterday swift activity was rather poor. I would have said it was perfect weather conditions, but they didn’t seem to think so. There was a bit of activity first thing but that petered out by lunchtime. I wonder if it was just too humid.

We had a tremendous thunderstorm at 5pm. I don’t think I’ve ever heard so much thunder, it went on continuously for a good 30 minutes. Now I’ve often read that swifts will move out of the path of such storms, but yesterday they did the complete opposite. Just as it began to rain virtually all the swifts in my colony, that’s over 30 appeared out of nowhere and darted back into their boxes. Within about 5 minutes they were all in. Just as well because a few seconds later it absolutely poured down.

One unexpected but extremely helpful consequence of them all coming in together is I had the chance to count them. In my June 5th blog I speculated whether the first group of newcomers could be all males. To recap I had a small group arrive around the beginning of June. Instead of pairing up with one-another they all occupied boxes singley. I wondered whether it was advantageous to ‘own’ your own box when trying to attract a mate and if so would the next wave of newcomers to arrive be mostly females? So I had 4 single birds in boxes. One in nb3 south (a resident bird from last year who had lost its mate) and now 3 newcomers in my boxes on the west side. With the arrival of the second group of newcomers over the weekend the activity has been intense. First my resident bird in nb3 south picked up a new mate (see my blog on Tuesday 16th) and last night I managed to see exactly who was in my west boxes. To my surprise and delight all 3 single birds have also found new mates. I now have new pairs in nb7, 10 & 11 west. Now that might just be a lucky coincidence or on the other hand there might just have been something in my theory. Whatever it is I’m more than happy with the outcome. I now have 18 pairs in my boxes, the highest number I’ve ever had.

Wednesday 17th June

4pm update. All the Saturday tickets for our NGS/Swift event have now been sold, which is great news for the NGS charities.

The good news is anyone who missed out on our Sunday opening can now come this Saturday. We have secured two more time slots – one at 10am and another at 11.15am, maximum number of visitors 10 per hour. If you would like to come you will need to book via the NGS link above. We’re absolutely delighted by the interest shown so far and fingers crossed the forecast for the weekend looks pretty good. Plus we have a gang of very noisy newcomers we hope will keep everyone entertained. All in all it has the potential to be a great couple of swift watching days!

The single egg in nb6 hatched yesterday taking the chick total to 14. Seven out of my thirteen boxes now have chicks inside. The next eggs to hatch are in nb2 and nb5 north, both are due on Friday.

There are at least 5, possibly 6 newcomers in the second group that arrived over the weekend. However their behaviour differs slightly from the first group that arrived at the beginning of June. That group were more interested in securing empty nest boxes and at least three were occupied. This latest group are different. I watched them last night right up to 10pm. They were flying up to all the occupied boxes, landing momentarily and peeping inside. This agitated the resident birds no end who responded with extremely loud defensive screams every time they landed. The strange thing is I have half a dozen unoccupied boxes which they totally ignored. So I asked myself the question why? If they were really interested in securing an unoccupied box then by default they would eventually find them. But no, they kept landing on all the occupied boxes, not once but time and time again. So that got me thinking. If they’re not looking for unoccupied boxes what are they looking for? The only difference I think is the calls coming from the resident birds. I think they’re listening out. I believe they’re trying to work out if there’s a potential mate inside, such as a single bird that has lost its mate. By landing and listening to each response call they can work out who’s inside. Surely there must be a purpose for their behaviour other than for pure devilment. Whatever the reason is it sure is good fun to watch!

Tuesday 16th June

Some great news yesterday my single bird in nb3 south has finally found a new mate. It’s been all alone since it arrived on 7th May. It successfully managed to lure in one of the newcomers that have just arrived. The resident bird is the one sitting on the nest and the newcomer is the one just to the side. It was very nervous to start with but after a few minutes moved closer and eventually both started preening one-another. There is also still an outside chance they may breed this season, but it’s getting very late. With the arrival of that new bird that takes the number of pairs in my camera boxes up to 14.

Jane and I spent all morning yesterday moving pots and tidying up the garden ready for our open day on Sunday. When we went back inside we were amazed to see how many tickets had been sold in just a few hours. By the end of the day there were only two places available. As the demand has been so great we’re going to ask the NGS if we can open for a couple of hours on Saturday morning. We’re not sure if that will be possible, but we would like to raise as much as we can for the NGS charities which include Macmillan, Marie Curie and Hospices.

Whilst we were in the garden the activity above our heads was fantastic, probably the best morning so far this season. Without doubt a good number of newcomers have arrived. As well as the single bird in nb3 south bagging a new mate the three single birds in the boxes the west side were also very active. I’m hoping some of them might have found new partners as well.

Monday 15th June

Yesterday the second egg hatched in nb2 south taking the number of chicks to 13. Luckily we had no repeat of the incident we had on Saturday with the intruder. I think he must have learnt his lesson and decided not to try again. The next egg due to hatch is in nb6 north today. Six boxes now have chicks with seven boxes still on eggs.

There have been some interesting swift movements going on just across the channel. A few days ago several thousand were seen in Holland. On Saturday over 3000 were counted in Fonteintjes, Belgium. It’s probably the same birds just moving along the coast, but at least they’re getting a little closer to us!

I’m pretty sure another small group of newcomers have arrived. A couple of weeks ago the first group of newcomers appeared and several started to roost in my boxes. About two days ago another 5 or 6 joined them. I was hoping that they might pair up with the first group, but at the moment they seem more content with just whizzing around screaming. I wonder if they are slightly younger birds, yearlings perhaps, who aren’t ready to settle down yet. It will be interesting to see what happens over the going days.

Sunday 14th June

Yesterday the first egg hatched in nb2 south taking the number of chicks to 12. However some very interesting occured in this box the likes I’ve never seen before. It involved a newcomer and this is what happened. Sometime after the chick hatched one adult went out. I’m pretty sure it was the male. I have a gut feeling that females do most of the incubating, as I think they have a much stronger mothering instinct. After about an hour a bird entered the box. At first I thought it was the mate returning, but it soon became apparent it wasn’t. The female who was on the nest was very reluctant to move and just sat there calling. I think her instinct was to protect the newly hatched chick. At first the intruder remained near the entrance hole. So we had a bit of a Mexican standoff. Unfortunately I think the females inaction lead the intruder who was probably a naive youngster believing that it was welcome. It started making soft courtship calls. So I had one bird screaming out warning calls whilst the other softly replied with a love song, most odd! This went on for some time, slowly the intruder inched its way forward until they were almost beak to beak. It was fascinating to watch, as I couldn’t predict what would happen next. At that very moment the resident male returned and all hell was let loose. Needless-to-say the intruder didn’t hang about long and was unceremoniously thrown out of the box. Just as it left the resident male gave it a hard peck on the bottom. I think that message was ‘get out of here and do not return!’.

Saturday 13th June

Although it was sad to lose the little chick yesterday, life in the swift colony goes on. Yesterday both eggs in nb4 south hatched. A quick update – from the 29 eggs laid we now have 11 chicks in 5 nests and 16 eggs divided between the other 8 nests. We’ve lost one chick and one egg. The next egg due to hatch is in nb6 north on the 15th. We had some hefty showers yesterday, although most welcome for the garden did little for the swift activity. However as the day progressed it got much warmer, with the rise in temperature it became quite muggy. If we get some drier intervals we should start to see an increase in activity. Swifts really like warm and muggy weather.

Another interesting development yesterday saw a sizeable movement of swifts in Holland see this link. It’s difficult to know exactly what’s going on. Are they part of the second wave of newcomers (bangers) on the way. Or are they ‘local’ birds just moving ahead of the low pressure weather fronts that have been with us for a couple of days? I wish I knew.

With the recent rain we had a mass departure of baby frogs and toads from the pond. There’s absolutely hundreds hopping about the garden. I had to tread ever so carefully to avoid stepping on them. One thing that made me laugh was Wrenkin our tame Wren. As you probably know he built several nests around the garden back in April. He then invited his mate to choose one of them to lay her eggs in. Well she’s picked the one in the hedge next to the pond. An excellent choice as it’s close to the house and I can watch in comfort from the conservatory. He spent all yesterday picking up feathers that the swifts had knocked out of their boxes. Some of the feathers were twice the size of him. It was quite bizarre to see huge white feathers flying through the air with our little friend lost somewhere behind.

Friday 12th June

The good news is our little chick is still alive. The bad news is I had to remove it from its foster parents. The weather yesterday was poor. Both foster parents stayed in for most of the morning. When one finally went out it took almost 3 hours before it returned. My hope was it would share the feed out equally between the 3 chicks. Unfortunately it didn’t go quite as well as I had hoped. When it came back in it only fed the two larger chick as our little chick was just too small to compete. I watched the second and third feeds and the same thing happened. The little chick was growing weaker and I started to worry about its survival. So at 5pm I reluctantly removed it from its new nest. I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening feeding it tiny morsels of food. Our house had been full of flies during the recent spell of warm weather, but just when I could have done with some there was hardly any to be found. It took me ages to find just a few. However luckily I have a cellar under the house which is a haven for spiders, so I managed to find enough to feed the little chick. My plan now is to temporarily hand-feed it, only long enough until it gets its strength back. Once I’ve achieved that my aim is to place it into another nest. Unfortunately I won’t be able to put it back in nb1 south again as the chicks in there will be too big by then, however I do have another nest in mind. The two eggs in nb5 south are due to hatch today. If everything goes to plan I’m hoping I can place our little chick in with them in a few days time. However the next few hours are touch and go.

I was correct about the grey egg in nb1 north being addled. The day after I removed the little chick it was thrown out by one of the adults. The remaining chick now has the nest to itself and is being well looked after by its parents.

9am update. Sad news the little chick has just died despite my best efforts. It was very weak from the moment it hatched. Maybe the adult birds could tell there was something wrong and that was the reason they didn’t feed it? I’ll bury it in a little box under the apple tree.

Thursday 11th June

Yesterday my early optimism regarding the little chick in nb1 north faded as the day progressed. It became obvious that the larger chick was bagging all the feeds. Even worse the parents had stopped feeding each chick individually and were just feeding the larger one. As the day went on the little chick started to grow weaker. A decision had to be made. If I left it in there it could be dead by the morning or should I try and foster it. Luckily there was another box with chicks roughly about the same age. Nb1 south has 2 chicks that hatched on 7th June. The little chick hatched on 8th June. More importantly those chicks are only slightly bigger than the little chick, so if moved in theory it should stand a much better chance of being fed.

At 8pm I removed the little chick from nb1 north. However before I placed it in nb1 south I gave it a good feed. I managed to find a good selection of spiders and flies in the conservatory which were perfect. As soon as it was fed I placed it in the box with its foster siblings. Now I must wait and see whether I made the right decision.

Wednesday 10th June

The second egg hatching in nb1 north on Monday evening took the total number of chicks to 10. The really great news is our little chick is doing OK. Both parents are very good and feed each chick in turn, so at the moment our little chap is getting its fair share. The grey egg is still there, if it doesn’t hatch today I reckon it must be addled.

I think some more newcomers arrived yesterday. There seemed to be a few more flying around the house. Unfortunately I was too late going out fully see what was going on. It was gone 9.30pm and most of my birds were already in. However there was a lone swift flying about that was desperate to find a box. It must have landed on at least a dozen and peeped inside. Each time it did the resident birds would scare it away. Even when it landed on an unoccupied box the resident birds in the adjacent box heard it and screamed out. After about 20 minutes it disappeared into the night sky. I’m hoping it will return today and have another go when it’s a bit quieter. I have got at least half a dozen boxes empty, so there’s still plenty of room available. If I am right and some more have arrived then it will be interesting to see what happens to my 4 single birds.

Tuesday 9th June

Yesterday I noticed that something strange was going on in nb1 north. Three eggs were laid in that nest. The first on 14th May, a second on 17th May and a third on 19th May.

One egg hatched on Friday 5th June. I assume it was the first egg laid, but now I’m not so sure. I would have expected the other two eggs to have hatched by now, as they normally hatch within a day or two of each other. The chick is receiving all the feeds and has grown enormous. Also one of the eggs looks a very odd colour when compared to the other. One is pure white which is normal, but the other is grey. I’m wondering if one or maybe both are addled?

If eventually one or perhaps both hatch then there’s going to be a huge size difference between the chicks.That’s not a good thing at all especially if one of the chicks turns out to be the runt of the clutch. I’ll have to keep a very close eye on that nest for the next few days! Below is a photo of the chick being fed, the white egg is just poking out from under the adult. The grey egg is next to the chick.

Monday night 9pm update. To my utter astonishment the second egg, the white one has just hatched. That’s 3 days after the first egg hatched, most unusual. The little chick is tiny compared to its monster sibling. I managed to take this photo which shows the smaller chick resting its head on the larger chick. You’ll notice how small it is in comparison.

Update. Tuesday 9am. Both adults just gone out and you can see the smaller chick is about half the size of its sibling. Let’s hope it’s a fighter and doesn’t get bullied too much!

Monday 8th June

Yesterday just as I thought a second egg was laid in nb5 south taking the egg total to 28. However I also discovered there was a third egg in nb4 north. Between the 13 active nests they have produced 29 eggs this year. Four boxes contain 3 eggs, eight boxes contain 2 and one box contains 1. So far 9 eggs have hatched. 18 of my 25 boxes are occupied.

As I think all my birds have finished laying here is an update of how things stand in each box this morning.

North nb1 – 2 eggs, 1 chick; nb2 – 2 eggs; nb3 – 3 chicks; nb4 – 3 chicks; nb5 – 3 eggs; nb6 – 1 egg.

South nb1 – 2 chicks; nb2 – 2 eggs; nb4  – 2 eggs; nb5 – 2 eggs.

West nb1 – 2 eggs; nb5 – 2 eggs; nb12 – 2 eggs.

Status in the other boxes with cameras – nb3 south – single adult and nb 2, 3 & 4 west empty.

Status in the 8 non-camera boxes – nb7 north empty; nb6 south – empty; nb6 west – pair; nb7 west – single adult; nb8 west – empty; nb9 west – empty; nb10 west -single bird; nb11 west – single bird. So all in all still a few vacancies left here at Swift House!

Sunday 7th June

Today is World Swift Day and Dr Jane Goodall with the help of Martine Wauters (known as Swift Lady) have produced this lovely video.

Martine has being doing amazing work to encourage greater understanding of swifts.  Here are a few new things that you may learn about swifts today. Firstly there are 96 species in the world. They all have an aerodynamic shape with long, sickle-shaped wings and are amongst the fastest of all birds with supreme flying ability. Some are migratory such as the Common Swift (present in Europe, Africa & some parts of Asia) and the Chimney Swift (present in North & South America). Others are sedentary such as the African Palm Swift and Schouteden’s Swift that is found in the Congo. Several species have been studied for many years and various groups are working to protect them. However there is so much more to learn. Here’s a beautiful tribute to the Common Swift by Jean-Francois Cornuet see this video.

Yesterday two more eggs hatched. The third in nb3 north and the second in nb4 north. That takes the number of chicks to 6. Something I’ve never seen before is just after the third egg hatched both adults in nb3 north departed. They left their 3 chicks uncovered for nearly two hours during the afternoon. It was quite cold and all 3 chicks struggled to keep warm. When one of the adults finally returned the chicks had gone into a torpor. The adult had to warm up the chicks for a good 10 minutes before it was able to feed them. Normally when eggs hatch one adult will sit on the chicks whilst the other collects food. They don’t normally leave their chicks uncovered until they are at least a week old. I’ve never seen such young chicks left unattended by their parents before. Fortunately for the chicks it’s meant to get warmer from today.

Saturday 6th June

Yesterday was a day full of surprises. I normally look at my cameras late morning when most of the birds are out. I have a quick check to make sure all the birds who should be incubating their eggs are there. Also it gives me a chance to see if any have been displaced by accident.

The final pairing in nb5 south have just produced their first egg. But what was unexpected was I’ve also found there’s a third egg in two other boxes – nb1 and nb5 north. That was a real surprise. I was convinced there were only two eggs in both those boxes. With these eggs the total now stands at 27 – eight boxes have 2 eggs, three boxes have 3 and two boxes have 1. Although I expect the pair in nb5 south to lay at least another one.

To my surprise four eggs hatched yesterday. They hatched  a couple of days earlier than I had anticipated. I normally reckon that it is 20 days from when the last egg is laid. These were only 18 days. The exceptional warm weather in May is the most likely explanation. I’ve had to adjust all my other predicted hatching dates accordingly. Below is a short video of two chicks being fed yesterday in nb3 north. You can see how attentive the adult is, feeding each chick in turn with tiny amounts of food.

Friday 5th June

My first eggs are due to hatch on Monday, which is just as well as the next couple of days are meant to be wet and windy. Out of the 13 camera boxes that have pairs in 12 have now completed their clutches. Ten contain 2 eggs, one has 3 and one has 1 – giving a grand total of 24 eggs. Only the pair in nb5 south is left to lay. The single bird in nb3 south is still single! That’s a total of 27 birds.

In my non-camera boxes there are a pair in nb6 west and single birds in nb7, 9 & 11 west. I’m pretty sure the 3 single birds were part of the gang of newcomers that arrived about a week ago. That’s a total of 5 birds.

One of the plus points of this lockdown (if there are any!) is I’ve been able to observe my birds even more than normal. Something that has always puzzled me is the gender of the newcomers. There is no way of telling the males apart from the females, unless of course one lays an egg! About a week ago my newcomers arrived. Mostly I see about 5 or 6, but occasionally I’ve seen as many as 10. So I started to ask myself, do they travel in same sex groups? If so could the first newcomers to arrive be predominantly males? The reason behind this thought is why is the bird in nb3 south still single and why are there 3 single birds in nb7, 9 and 11 west. If the group of newcomers were a mixture of both males and females I would have expected the bird in nb3 south to have found a mate. I also would have expected to see new pairs in my other boxes rather than just single birds.

However there might be a logical explanation for this. Just say the first wave of newcomers are predominantly males. Some will pair up with unattached resident females who already have their own box. Maybe that’s what happened to the bird in nb5 south?  Others however will search out and secure nest boxes of their own. Why? Because once they found a nest box they are in a much stronger position to attract a mate. That would explain the three single birds in my boxes on the west side plus the single bird in nb3 south – they are all males!

If my theory is correct then there should be another wave of newcomers arriving soon. However the difference this time will be this wave will be predominately females and they will be looking for partners. Males who have already secured a nest site will be in a much better position to attract them. So potentially there is an advantage for males to arrive before females. Now all I have to do is to see when the next group of newcomers arrives. When it does the acid test will be if some/all of my single birds start to pair up with them. As you can tell I’ve got far too my time on my hands to wonder about these things!

Thursday 4th June

Yesterday was a poor swift day in regards to activity. Most of my birds spent the day far away feeding. I hope we don’t get too many more days like that over the coming weeks.

One thing I have noticed is how well their nests have been built. Some years the nest material they bring back is predominately feathers, but this year its  mostly hay. For several weeks now they’ve been bringing back loads of it. The glorious weather has lifted some of the dried grass up into the air which has been gratefully accepted by my swifts.

Yesterday there was an interesting sighting of a large passage of swifts moving north-west near Bridgwater. Was it newcomers just arriving or established breeders moving ahead of a weather front? Who knows but by all accounts it was a magical sight.

The other evening I took this video of my birds coming into roost. It gets quite manic for a few minutes. They descend in waves, screaming as they enter their boxes. It’s quite a spectacle to watch, although a little on the noisy side. Just hope my neighbours don’t get too upset by all the commotion.

Wednesday 3rd June

The weather is just about to change. The next few days are going to be considerably cooler than what we’ve been used to. By Sunday it might only reach 13C. It will be interesting to see if the newcomers hang around. In the previous years they’ve disappeared for a few days only returning once its warmed up again. The remaining single bird in nb3 south still can’t seem to tempt a mate in despite trying all day yesterday.

Yesterday I was sent some photos by Martin of an unusual looking structure near Plymouth where swifts are nesting. It’s called the Rifle Butts Wall at Staddon Heights and is probably 70ft high. Reading about it I discovered Staddon Battery was built in c.1780 to protect the approach to Plymouth Sound from the East. The rifle butt structure was built by the army in 1860s to enable its troops to practise with the newly issued Enfield rifle and was extended to the south in 1894 by the Royal Marines. It is on the headland overlooking the English Channel and dominates the surrounding landscape – see this short video. 

The South side of the wall faces the sea whilst the North overlooks the nearby golf course. The landscape on the south side is wild and Martin says that there are lots of butterflies and wildflowers and amazing views of the English channel 500ft below. On the North side which is protected from the prevailing weather there are at least 50 pairs of swifts nesting within the cracks of the wall.

The photos below are taken from the fairway of the local golf course and show the North side from a distance plus a couple closer up. You can see the small holes the swifts are nesting in, some are very small indeed. No one knows how long the swifts have been nesting here, but I suspect probably since it was first built.

 

Tuesday 2nd June

Yesterday the first egg in nb12 west was laid. I’m also pretty sure there’s a second egg in nb2 north and two eggs in nb5 west. Both these nests are very difficult to see into, but as the birds are incubating and assuming I am correct that would take the egg total up to 21. I now have eggs in 11 of my 13 nests. A slight panic last night as the partner of nb2 south stayed out all night. Panic over after a quick check this morning showed it was back. Why they do that I don’t know. Maybe its something to do with the warm weather.

The noisy newcomers arrive about 6am each morning and are particularly active for the first hour or two. I filmed this short video at 8am yesterday of them banging my boxes. I think there’s about 8 or 9 of them in their gang. The single bird in nb3 south is desperately trying to tempt one in. I watched it all day yesterday flying back to its box hoping one of these newcomers would follow it in. Alas no joy, so perhaps today?

Monday 1st June

My swift friend Len from Bolton has just sent me some lovely photos and a short video of his new swift boxes. He has made a couple of triangular boxes to fit neatly into the gable of his house. Both have nest cups lined with soft feathers. He has made the cups out of small coils of rope and glued them together. I think that’s very clever adaptation. He’s a prolific box-builder (just like me) and has made a wide range of different boxes, both internal and external. I think he’s now got almost as many as me! He’s done amazingly well and attracted his first pair only a few weeks after putting up his first boxes in 2019. Now that’s what I call good going.

I really like the look of his new boxes and I’m sure his swifts are going to find them just perfect!

Quick update from my colony. Yesterday the first egg was laid in nb12 west. Eggs now in 10 out of my 13 viable nests. That takes the egg total up to 17. No change in the number of birds in the colony despite the arrival of half a dozen noisy newcomers. I’m still hopeful that the single bird in nb3 south will find a mate soon.

Sunday 31st May

Saturday was a rerun of Friday. A few noisy fly-bys until about 10am and after that it was just birds bringing back nesting material. A check of the cameras revealed another 2 eggs had been laid. The first in nb2 and in nb5 north. That took the egg total up to 16. Out of the 13 pairs 9 now have eggs. Even though there’s half a dozen newcomers around my last remaining single bird in nb3 south has yet to find a new mate. Maybe today?

A quick update on wildlife in my garden. Now that there are no fish in the pond its absolutely full of life. In the photo below you can just about make out several Smooth and Palmate Newts on top of the weed. Large Red and Common Blue Damselflies abound and we saw our first Emperor Dragonfly of the summer. I think Rob my tame Robin has lost its mate. He came off worse after a fight with a rival male a few weeks ago and lost most of his feathers on his head. He’s looking decidedly scruffy, perhaps that’s why he’s on his own! Wrenkin is still making an appearance every now and then and Waggy is feeding chicks. I think his nest is somewhere down near the banks of the River Trym. He pops in quite often for a feed and takes several meal worms away with him each time. Finally the Great Tits are doing well. At least three youngsters are still about and chase their parents wherever they go, begging for food. Their appetite is amazing, their always hungry!

Saturday 30th May

Yesterday turned out to be very quiet which was rather disappointing. There was a bit of activity first thing in the morning which was great, but that petered out and all I was left with was the odd bird bringing back nesting material. It didn’t really pick up again until well after 9pm. I always feel slightly cheated when there’s no activity and the weather is good.

This morning the noisy newcomers arrived around 6am. I counted about 6. At the moment they’re putting on quite a display. They are targeting the occupied boxes which in turn elicits a very angry reply from the resident birds inside. I hope the noise doesn’t upset my neighbours too much!

I was expecting to see a second egg in nb6 north, but its now two days overdue so I think that’s it. Most pairs lay 2 eggs, sometimes 3. Only occasionally does a pair lay only one egg. There is the possibility that they might have laid another egg but have accidentally knocked it out of the nest. Unfortunately I can’t quite see inside that particular box. If I notice that an egg has been displaced I normally pop it back in. If I do this relatively quickly most hatch out.

Friday 29th May

Some good news. After 3 days of trying the single swift in nb5 south finally managed to attract a new mate. I was trying to film this moment of triumph for the blog. However each time the resident bird re-entered the box the following bird either missed the hole completely or just peeped in before flying away. All morning it had been trying to tempt it back in without success. By mid-afternoon I had given up filming. Their attempts had become less frequent and I had come to the opinion that was it for today. Just before 3pm I went inside to make a cup of tea. As I poured the water into the cup I could hear a lot of commotion outside. By the time I got back outside the action was over. Only this time it was different, I could hear a soft peeping call from inside the box. Sure enough both birds were inside and preening one-another – see the photo below. That takes the total up to 27 – 13 pairs and now only 1 single bird left in nb3 south to find a new mate. Perhaps it might be lucky today?

Thursday 28th May

It’s 6am and our noisy newcomers have just turned up again. They seem to arrive around this time each morning. It’s difficult to tell how many there are as some of my resident birds are mixed in with them, but I think its about 4. Both of my single birds are still trying to attract a new mate, but neither has had any luck yet. One strange bit of behaviour I witnessed was the single bird in nb5 south attracted a bird which followed it in, but as soon as it entered it chased it out. I thought the whole point was to attract it in! Maybe it was the same sex. I don’t know why it did it and it was very puzzling. I’m still not having much success with filming. I’m beginning to think the swifts are taking the mickey out of me. I’m ready with the camera and nothing but the moment I put it down and wander off they’re in like a flash. This happened on more than one occasion yesterday and it became a bit of a standing joke between Jane and myself. I’ll have another go today.

In the meantime I was sent this amazing video by our friends Tanya and Edmund in Cumbria. I always reckoned that when an egg was accidentally knocked out of the nest it was lost forever. In this clip you can see the adult bird actually looking for the displaced egg. Eventually it finds it a few inches away and deliberately starts to manoeuvre it back into the nest. It’s quite remarkable footage.

Wednesday 27th May

Hopefully the last of my missing birds will arrive in the coming days.  However if they are not here by the end of this week then I reckon they won’t be returning. The weather conditions are perfect for migration, so any birds still lingering in France should easily navigate the final leg of their journey now.

I had around 30 birds in my camera boxes last year. I always hope that they will all make it back, but realistically I know some won’t. The experts reckon their mortality rate is about 20% or put another way 1 in every 5. So based on that percentage its reasonable to expect I should lose around 6 birds. However as with most things in nature its not an exact science, as every year differs from the last. So I’m always optimistic all my birds will return each year.

At the moment I have 26 back – 12 pairs and 2 singles which isn’t a bad return at all. I’m fairly confident that the two single birds will soon find new mates, so that will take the colony total up to 28. The next 2 to 3 weeks should see the second wave of new birds arriving, some of which might even pair up and breed. Based on my records from previous years I should expect to see at least another 1 to 3 new pairs arrive. So any short fall will soon be rectified and the overall size of the colony should remain about the same.

No luck with the filming yesterday. Next door decided to mow the lawn that seemed to go on for hours! I’ll try again today, hopefully it will be a bit quieter.

Tuesday 26th May

10am. Two more eggs. The first in nb6 north an a second in nb2 south. That takes the egg total up to 14.

Well I was half right with my theory yesterday. From the reports I received it was a super swift day in some parts of the country. Much to my disappointment it never really got going here despite the arrival of a few new birds. However it was fun watching these newcomers interact with my 2 remaining single birds. My single birds are in nb3 and 5 south and both were desperate to attract a new mate. It was fascinating watching them both try. Their tactics are to fly in ever decreasing circles, getting closer and closer to their own boxes. Right behind them was one, sometimes two of the newcomers. As the resident bird got within a few feet of its box it would let out a distinctive peeping call. This call is quite unlike the harsh scream we normally hear, its more like a gentle peep that established birds make when preening one another. As far as I can tell this is to show the following bird the exact position of the nest site. Every now and then a resident bird would enter its own box. I think they were hoping one of the newcomers would follow them back in. This behaviour went on all day long, but alas it seems that neither resident bird managed to tempt any newcomers in.

This morning the newcomers are back again. My two single birds are still in their boxes. No doubt I’ll see a repeat of the behaviour I witnessed yesterday. I think its some form of courtship behaviour. I’ll try and video it today for the blog tomorrow.

Monday 25th May

The first morning I’ve been woken up by the screamers outside.  The sun’s up, there’s not a breath of wind and the sky is crystal clear – just perfect for swifts. The majority of the 60,000 swifts in South-East France started to move towards us on Saturday. They would have been here in a couple of days if the weather conditions had been good. However they came up against the strong winds that battered us over the weekend and that slowed them down. They are probably just the other side of the English Channel now. Now the wind has finally dropped I fully expect them to resume their final leg back to us. If my theory is right they should reach their destinations in Southern England sometime this morning and the rest of the UK by tonight or early tomorrow. Here it has the potential of being a super swift day!

A quick update on my colony. I have 26 birds back – 12 pairs and 2 singles. Six of these pairs have started egg laying and the total number of eggs at the moment is 12, although that will rise to 13 as I’m expecting a second egg in nb2 south this morning. In my non-camera boxes I think I have at least 2 possibly 3 single birds.

Sunday 24th May

Yesterday it blew a hooley all day. I thought Friday was bad but Saturday was even worse. Even my swifts didn’t venture out much. A quick look at the cameras at lunchtime revealed only 8 out of 26 had dared to go out. That made checking the egg total even more difficult than normal, but eventually I did manage to see into all boxes. Another two more eggs had been laid. The first one in nb2 south and a second one in nb4 south. That takes the egg total up to 12 in 6 nests. That believe it or not was the highlight of the day with regard to swift action.

In my May 3rd blog we featured a few photos of DIY swift boxes that people have built since lockdown began. Since then we’ve had even more emailed to us. It seems the DIY skills of UK householders is something not to be under-estimated. It’s really heart-warming to see how much effort and care has gone into building these boxes. Below are a few more photos of boxes that have been installed recently.

It is not just in the UK as the last photo shows two new boxes made in Sweden.

It is lovely to receive emails and photos showing us what you have done. We’ve also been told about several new projects including local Swift WhatsApp groups and Swift Facebook groups. I must admit I am not very good at either. I think it must be an age thing! However we do have a Bristol Swifts Facebook page that has attracted a lot of new members recently. We think it’s absolutely wonderful that the swift can touch so many people in such a positive way.

Saturday 23rd May

Most of the 60,000 swifts in France have already moved on and are continuing their journey towards us. Yesterday only about 3000 remained over the wetlands. If the weather conditions are good en route most should arrive in the next couple of days. My money is on them arriving early next week. However having said that a few actually made it home yesterday. In my camera boxes another one arrived back taking the total up to 26. In my other boxes at least 2, possibly 3 also arrived. It was particularly windy yesterday with some gusts reaching 40mph. I was watching a small group of swifts, 3 perhaps 4 flying around the boxes on the west side. This side feels the full force of the wind and they were really being buffeted by it as they flew by. As I watched it became evident that they were actually practising. Each fly-by was in fact a training lesson to gauge exactly what angle and speed was required to land. After about half a dozen goes they had worked it out and flew straight in without any problems at all. I was quite amazed by their skill as I was convinced it was impossible to land in such windy conditions.

Friday 22nd May

Yesterday saw some of those swifts in France make it back here to me. Three more birds arrived home taking the total up to a very respectable 25. That’s 25 out of 30 back from last year. I’m also fairly confident that some of the missing 5 will also return in the coming days as well. It appears that most of my birds have made it back safely thank goodness. The 25 consists of 11 pairs and 3 singles. The first egg was laid in nb4 south taking the egg count up to 10. There are now 5 boxes with eggs in.

Waking up this morning to rain seems quite strange after such a long hot, dry spell. The wind has also picked up, so it feels much cooler. Unfortunately these gusty conditions will make it tricky for all those birds still in France. I expect they will now stay put of an extra day or two before resuming their journey towards us. However the excellent news is their numbers continue to swell. Yesterday Trektellen recored over 60,000 feeding over the wetlands at Falaise de Leucate and Etang de Canet – Saint Nazaire, South-East France.

The first bangers of the season arrived in Northern Ireland yesterday. The swifts now in France will be a mixture of late breeders and juvenile non-breeders (bangers). When they finally arrive in a few days time we should start to see some action. For me the sooner the better, as I love watching their antics. For those of you hoping to attract your very first pairs. Get ready to play those attraction calls, the second wave is on its way!

Thursday 21st May

Yesterday saw some of those swifts in France arrive home. From the reports I received quite a few people across the country welcomed back their swifts. However if you’re still waiting don’t despair. I’ve just checked Trektellen and yesterday swift numbers continued to build. Over 30,000 were seen feeding over Falaise de Leucate and Etang de Canet – Saint Nazaire. They can make the short trip to us in less than 2 days, so expect a lot more to arrive over the coming days.

I have 25 boxes, 17 with cameras in and its these I use for monitoring purposes. So when I talk about 30 birds from last year I’m referring to these boxes only. However I do have swifts in some of the 8 other boxes. These boxes are located 1 on the north, 1 on the south and 6 on the west. Unfortunately it’s extremely difficult to know exactly how many swifts use these boxes. Sometimes I get lucky and see one flying in, but apart from that I have to wait until the end of the season to inspect each box to see what’s been using it. Yesterday saw a big influx to Bristol and I was lucky enough to get another 2 birds back. 1 in my camera box and 1 without. That takes my total up one to 22 out of 30. Plus another 1 in nb8 west.

Yesterday was the hottest day of the year so far. Perfect swift weather. I spent the whole day outside. The morning was particularly good with the arrival of new swifts. Lots of high level screaming as they reformed their pairs, however their excitement tailed off during the afternoon which gave us the opportunity to enjoy the other wildlife in the garden. Since I removed all the fish from the pond the difference has been remarkable. The water is crystal clear, the first time its been like that for years. It’s teeming with life with millions of tiny Mosquito larvae and Daphnia (Water fleas). I thought tadpoles were the bottom of the food chain by these guys are below them. Everything eats them! Over the water Large Red and Common Blue Damsel flies danced and we saw our first Broad Bodied Dragonfly of the season.

The garden was humming with the sound of insects. One of the noisiest is the Rose Chafer. They are large bright green beetles that emerge around this time. Unfortunately they aren’t very good fliers and crash into everything. They are quite comical to watch. Rob my tame robin has chicks to feed. They are only small and he prefers to take back tiny flies rather than meal worms to them, although he does stop to feed on my hand from time to time. On one occasion as I held my hand out for him the single Great Tit Mum took full advantage and grabbed a few for herself.

Wednesday 20th May

10am. I’m sure some newcomers have just arrived. The sky above me is filled with excited screams!

Swift numbers continue to rise in France. Yesterday nearly 20,000 swifts were seen feeding over Falaise de Leucate and Etang de Canet – Saint Nazaire. This area in South-East France is a nature reserve with large lagoons and extensive wetlands. It’s full of tiny flies and mosquitos. It’s where our swifts tend to gather to refuel after their long flight from Africa. I’ve just seen the weather forecast and for the next couple of days a warm Southerly wind emanating from Spain is coming our way. Without doubt our swifts in France once they’ve had their fill, will hitch a ride on the back of it. A few have already made it here. I received reports of swifts arriving in the far South West of England yesterday afternoon.

Another egg was laid yesterday in nb1 South. That takes the egg total up to 9. I currently have 4 nests with eggs in. Nb1 & 4 north and nb1 south have 2 each. Nb3 north has 3. Despite the promising weather conditions no new birds arrived yesterday. I still only have 21 out of 30 back so far. Fingers crossed that might change today!

Tuesday 19th May

Swift numbers are continuing to build up in South-East France. Over 15000 seen yesterday near Perpignan. That’s only about 800 miles away. In swift time that’s just 2 days travel. They could be here by Thursday if we’re lucky.

I rarely get a nest with 3 eggs but a third egg has been laid in nb3 north. That takes the egg total up to 8.

On the 4th May a swift arrived back to nb1 west. For about a week it couldn’t decide on which box it liked best, spending one night in nb1 and the next in the adjacent box nb3 west. Finally a few days ago it seemed to have plumped for nb1. Yesterday a second bird joined it. I thought it was its old mate from last year but on closer observation I’m not so sure now. The new bird has brought with it two unwanted guests, Crataerina Pallida (see Friday 3rd April blog). I know my boxes were clear of this blood-sucking parasite, so the new bird must have picked it up somewhere else. The only logical answer is this bird belongs to a different colony. I assume it had been waiting in its own nest for its old mate to return and that is where it picked up the Crataerina. I think it then decided its old mate was not coming back and paired up with my bird in nb1 west. Now the interesting thing is what will happen if the old mate of nb1 turns up in the next few days. Trouble I fear!

Monday 18th May

Please Note. If you’re wondering where the rest of my blog has gone it’s because the old page was completely full and I couldn’t add any more information. However you can still access my early 2020 blog but clicking here.

Yesterday three eggs were laid. The first in nb1 south and second eggs for nb1 and nb4 north. That takes egg total to seven. Also one of my infrequent visitors decided to stay in overnight so my numbers went up to 21.

It’s been well over a week since any new birds arrived, but hope is on the way. Several thousand swifts were seen in South-west France last Friday. Over 6000 were seen crossing the River Gironde just north of Bordeaux. Yesterday nearly 3000 were seen near Perpignan in South-east France. Admittedly it’s not as large as the numbers seen at the beginning of the month, but its still a sizeable amount. Recently I have received several emails from people wondering where their birds are. Hopefully the sightings from France will bring some comfort to them and the good news is they should be with us in the next couple of days.

I have 2/3rds of my colony back, but I’m still missing 10 birds. Most of mine returned in the first week of May. However I’ve hardly had any since then. The others are probably on route and will arrive soon. However I was intrigued to know if the numbers I have back were about normal when compared to others. So I posted a question on the Swift Local Network (SLN) forum to ask what percentage of swifts other members have back?  SLN is made up of over 100 swift groups from all over the UK. To see where your local SLN is located see this link and click on the map.

The response was excellent. I received updates from all over the UK, however trying to make sense of all the information is another thing though! It’s a real mixed bag out there. Some members have all their birds back, others like me about half and a few with hardly any at all. There’s also no big geographical difference, it’s the same all across the country. So for any of you who are still missing some or all of your birds my message to you is “You are not alone”. I know its hard not to think the worst when some of your birds are missing, but if you can try not worry too much. They will be back, but it might be a little later than normal.

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