Bristol Swifts 2021 Blog

Welcome back to another year from Swift House. It’s really good to be up and running once again. We hope you’re all well and looking forward to the swifts returning as much as we are. We have 25 swift nesting boxes under the eaves, many fitted with cameras – for their exact location see Swift nest box location on our house. In 2020 we had 15 breeding pairs of swifts making it the largest single colony in Bristol. Our swift blog will return on a daily basis when the first swifts arrive back. My first birds generally turn up in the last week of April, so not long to wait now. There may be the odd blog before then, so keep an eye on this page! Here is a link to our 2020 Swift Blog.

The next planned blog will be on Sunday 25th April.

Sunday 18th April

Despite all the sunshine it’s still really chilly here. Every morning for the last week I’ve been scraping frost of the car windows. I’m so glad our swifts aren’t back as it’s far too cold for them at the moment. However I expect all that to change as soon as this blocking high pressure moves away. It’s been acting a bit like a cork in a bottle, effectively bottling up our summer migrants somewhere down in Southern Europe. As soon as we get a change in wind direction it will be just as though the cork has been removed. When it happens we should see a big influx of birds, including our beloved swifts. So if you’re still thinking about putting up a box you better hurry, it won’t be that long before our swifts return.

One thing I have found over the years is that fitting a nest cup inside your box really does make a difference. It definitely helps reduce the number of dislodged eggs and chicks. Unfortunately an all too common occurrence amongst first time breeders who lack nesting experience.

There are various ways of making a nest cup. One is to cut out a 100mm diameter hole and mould a shallow concave using filler. You can find an example of this at the bottom of my Nest Box Design page. However it is a bit fiddly to make so I’ve experimented this year with a much simpler version.

All you need is a length of 1/2” rope about 12”-13” long, form it into a circle to make a diameter of about 90-100mm and glue it firmly into place. Once set stick in some soft feathers or thistle down as a starter nest. The rope nest cup can either be added directly to the floor of a box (see first two photos) or fitted onto a small piece of ply first and then glued onto the floor of your box (see RH photo).

Note. It’s vitality important to only use good quality rope that is undamaged. If the rope is badly worn or frayed there’s a slight possibility that the swifts could get their claws tangled up in the loose fibres. As an extra precaution I would recommend coating the rope with a thin layer of glue or sealant just to be on the safe side.

Wednesday 14th April

The first big influx of swifts arrived in Spain yesterday. Almost 1500 were sighted over Falaise de Leucate, it’s a large nature reserve full of marshes and lakes just north of Barcelona. This time of year it’s absolutely teeming with newly hatched flies and midges which makes it irresistible to any passing migrant. Think of it as a sort of super petrol station. It’s where our birds gather to refuel. They normally stay for about a week or two. Once fully satiated they’ll continue on with the last leg of their journey. All bodes well for the first swifts arriving back in the UK by the end of April.

Sunday 11th April

For a city garden we don’t do too badly with the number of different species of bird who come to visit us. We usually get well over 30 during the year. About 15 are what I call resident birds, that is they tend to be here more often than the others. If I include our Swifts then about a dozen have nested in the garden at one time or another. At the moment the Great Tits have just taken up residence in the box on the kitchen wall.

However there are 4 birds who are really special to us. Those of you who followed my daily blog last season will be familiar with Rob my tame Robin, Waggy and Mrs Waggy, a pair of Pied Wagtails, and Wrenkin the Wren

Rob and Wrenkin are with me all year, but the Pied Wagtails only come for the winter. At the beginning of last October Mrs Waggy arrived back. A few weeks later Waggy returned. This winter they stayed until early March. Mrs Waggy was the first to leave. I presume to start nesting again, followed by Waggy about a week later. Occasionally Waggy pops back for a quick feed, but I haven’t seen Mrs Waggy now for several weeks. I expect I won’t see her again until the autumn. During the winter of 2019/2020 Mrs Waggy lost all the claws on her left foot. I’m not sure how but it left her with just a stump. I really thought she wouldn’t survive that winter, but one year on she is still here and looking really good despite her disability.

Rob has moved into the territory of a nearby female Robin. He still pops back every now and then, but he’s too busy nesting to spend much time with me. He’ll be back when the breeding season is over. In his absence next door’s Robin (Robsy) has taken full advantage. He’s a bit tatty looking due to the many fights he had with Rob. As well as being a fighter he’s also a very good parent. He got a nest full of youngsters to feed and is constantly on the look-out for food. Luckily I still have plenty of meal worms, see this clip

That leaves only Wrenkin. He’s become really quite bold in the absence of the others. He was at the bottom of the pecking order and had to wait his turn to feed, but now he’s number one bird. See this clip He’s built a few nests around the garden for his mate to inspect. The one she likes the best will become the brood nest. Sound familiar?

During the winter months the Wagtails are the dominant birds, bullying both Rob and Wrenkin, so I have to feed Rob on my hand otherwise he gets nothing! Poor little Wrenkin gets picked on by everyone, so I feed him separately when the others have gone. Rob will be 4 years old this summer. He’s been with me since he fledged back in 2017. I’m not sure how old the other three are, but I do know they are at least 3 years old. Here’s a video of Rob being fed, watching impatiently in the background are the Wagtails see

Monday 5th April

An extra blog this week. I’ve been busy putting up my boxes again. It’s a bit earlier than I normal do, but the weather was just too good not to take advantage of. Last Tuesday it got up to 22 degrees. It felt just like summer, so we had a BBQ to celebrate! I take my boxes down each winter to help protect the cameras, although I’m not sure if it really makes any difference or not. But it’s a routine I’ve got into and I do like my routines! Anyway I started to put them up last Monday. With 25 boxes to fit it takes me a few days now. I used to be able to do it all in one day, but not anymore. Before I put them up I make sure each camera is working properly, give it a bit of a clean and add a handful of fresh nesting material to each box. I was sent a big bag of thistledown by some swift friends from Stockport. Big thanks to the Richards family. Thistledown makes superb bedding. I mix it together with a few soft feathers and place it in each nest. The swifts will do the rest when they return. One final thing, as the boxes are up a little earlier than normal I’ve temporarily blocked up the entrance holes to stop any unwanted guests entering. The Blue Tits are still looking for somewhere to nest and these would make ideal homes for them. In a week or so time it will be safe to unblock them.

Sunday 4th April

We’ve seen a big increase in people wanting to put up boxes over the last year. The majority of interest is from individuals who want to put up a box or two on their house and are seeking our advice. However we have also been involved with several larger projects as well.

There’s a community project in the Chew Valley area organised by Anne-Marie Morris. Last December we surveyed over 20 households and fingers crossed, most will have boxes on them by the time the swifts arrive. Anne-Marie has done a fantastic job despite all the restrictions. We hope this is just the beginning and more households will want to be involved in the future. Photos of our visit and wonderful sunset over Chew Valley Lake on our way home.

In March we visited Grimsbury Farm, a community farm park run by South Gloucestershire County Council and met Caroline Gaze on site to discuss possible swift nest sites. The farm has great potential and we identified several excellent locations. Since we visited an order for 14 boxes (2 x 7 port apex boxes) and a sound system have been placed with Peak Boxes.

Last week we were invited to the Bishop’s Palace in Wells by James Cross the Head Gardener. He wants to attract swifts to the Palace. His long term ambition is to turn it into a swift mega-colony. We’ve never been there before and were amazed just how beautiful it was. We spent a lovely morning surveying the grounds with James. With so many super locations to fit boxes the potential there is massive. My personal favourite is the bell tower. We know swifts are nesting nearby so hopefully we can entice one or two over. If all goes well this summer the aim is to increase the total number of boxes over time. This will be done over three phases, with the first phase starting immediately.

Phase 1 is for 2 double eaves boxes and a sound system to be installed either side of the drainpipe before the swifts return in May. See photo 1 below.

Phase 2 is for 3 bespoke multi-compartment boxes to be fitted into the top of the bell tower. He hopes this will be done by the summer. See photos 2 & 3.

Phase 3 is for more boxes to be fitted along the length of the Eastern perimeter wall, possibly as early as next year if all goes to plan. See photo 4.

Peak Boxes are supplying the boxes and sound systems to all three projects.

Thursday 1st April

It’s really difficult to say anything positive about this horrible pandemic. However it does seem to have rekindled a greater appreciation of wildlife and green spaces which is absolutely fantastic. We’ve definitely noticed the change. We’ve been extremely busy on the swift front, in fact it has probably been our busiest year to date. It’s been quite remarkable. We’ve been involved in lots of interesting projects which we will go into more detail over the coming weeks.

For those of you who read my blog last year you’ll be pleased to know that Rob the Robin, Waggy, Mrs Waggy and Wrenkin are all fit and well. More on them in a later blog.

Here are a few things that have happened since the 2020 Swift blog finished.

After we appeared on BBC Breakfast in March 2020 we were amazed by the amount of interest it generated. We had people contacting us from all across the UK asking for advice about swifts. We even had emails from Finland, Italy, Spain & France! As a result hundreds of new swift boxes have been built and fitted. A big thank you to everyone with their efforts. I also appeared on BBC Breakfast talking about the Big Garden Birdwatch in January 2021. Ironically on the day of filming not a single bird appeared, but at least I got to mention our swifts.

During the summer a film was made in our garden for Clifton Climate Action entitled ‘Bristol’s Wild Gardens: the Swift Conservationist’ as one of a series of films about wildlife and environmentally-friendly gardens. Here is a link the video that was finished last September.

Our garden was featured as Garden of the Week in Garden News magazine August 1st 2020 issue. Here is a link to the first two pages and another link to the subsequent two pages.

And finally, we’re very pleased to announce that our garden will be open for a Swift/NGS charity event on Sunday 4th July 2021 1-4.30 pm – see this link.

Look after yourselves and stay safe.

Mark & Jane


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