This is my 2022 blog page with all the very latest wildlife news from around Swift House. My daily swift blog for 2022 has been separated into two pages, as it was just getting too long! My early 2022 blog page from January-May 2022 can be read here. My latest swift 2023 blog can be found here.
Swifts need our help more than ever. In December 2021 the species was Red-listed in the fifth Birds of Conservation Concern report. However it needn’t be like this. Whilst swift numbers have been steadily falling across the UK here at Swift House numbers have been rising from 1 pair in 2005 to 15 in 2021. We have 25 swift boxes dotted around under the eaves – see this link. 23 boxes have internal cameras fitted.
Sunday 25th December – Christmas Day
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
It won’t be long before we’re up and running again now the days are getting longer, so keep a look out on this page for all the latest action from Swift House. We also plan to do other pop-up swift open day next summer. Weather permitting it will be sometime during June or July. Again details will appear on this page nearer the time. If you missed our ‘swift’ appearance on BBC Gardeners World last September here’s another chance to see it. Click on this link.
Mark & Jane.
Saturday 1st October
We just wanted to say a big thank you for all the lovely comments we’ve had after appearing on BBC Gardeners World last night. It brought back many great memories of the day. We’ve have lots of positive messages from the UK swift community who say they enjoyed watching and listening to our swifts. It just makes us realise how much we miss them now they’ve gone back to Africa.
If you missed our ‘swift’ TV appearance it will be repeated in next few days and also available on BBC iplayer – here is a link.
Tuesday 27th September
We’ve just been told we will be on this Fridays BBC Gardeners World (30/9/22 – 8pm BBC2) When they filmed us back in July 2021 we were told the emphasis was about how to encourage wildlife into a suburban back garden. We’re hoping that swifts will be part of this, however we think that maybe Rob our tame Robin will take the limelight (once again!)
Thursday 15th September
This is the last blog of the 2022 swift season. Below is a brief summary of what happened during the summer at Swift House.
The first swift arrived back at Swift House on 2nd May. The majority of the colony arrived back between 8th-10th May. By the end of the month 16 breeding pairs had returned. May’s weather was largely dry and warm. These conditions were ideal for egg production with a record 12 clutches of 3 eggs. In total 43 eggs were laid, a new record for the colony.
June’s weather continued in the same vane as May to begin with, both warm and dry. The majority of eggs hatched out around the middle of the month. All the chicks grew fast under these favourable conditions. Unfortunately by the end of the month the weather turned cooler with frequent heavy showers. This had a devastating impact on some of the smallest chicks in the larger broods as food became harder to find. 3 chicks died and 2 were being temporarily hand fed with a view to put back into their original boxes once strong enough. By the end of the month the number of chicks in the colony was 32. There were 4 eggs still to hatch. 2 eggs were infertile. One adult bird went missing in one box and its mate abandoned its chicks the next day. All three were placed into foster boxes.
July’s weather was exceptionally hot and dry. It also turned into another month of fostering chicks as 3 more adults went missing, probably down to the activity of the local sparrowhawk. To help the single adults cope I removed all but one of the chicks from their respective boxes. Most of their chicks I managed to foster into other boxes, but three had to be hand-reared (Blue, Rocky and Cyrus). By the end of the month 32 chicks out of a total of 36 had fledged.
Only 4 chicks remained, 3 in boxes and Cyrus I was hand rearing. The first two fledged between 11th-12th August and the final one went on 25th August. The following day the last adult swift left. Now only Cyrus remained, however by the end of the month it became obvious that something was wrong with him. So on 30th August we took him to Swift Rehabber Gillian Westray to look after.
Gillian worked her magic and on 14th September Cyrus fledged. He was 63 days old and weighed 37g.
Out of the 43 eggs that were laid this season 41 hatched. 2 eggs were infertile. 5 chicks died. 9 chicks were fostered into other boxes. 3 chicks were hand-reared. In total 36 chicks fledged, a record number of fledglings at Swift House.
I’ve also attached this link to my 2022 Swift breeding charts. I’ve tried to make them as simple as I possible can, but due to the record number of foster chicks they are a little complicated to follow. Hopefully you’ll work it out!
We hope you have enjoyed reading our blogs as much as we have writing them. Our daily blog will be up and running again next Spring. So until then it’s goodbye from Jane and myself for another year.
Wednesday 14th September
We were away on holiday last week so just catching up. We saw 3 swifts migrating on our way back to Mahon airport yesterday, so we had our final swift fix of the year! We’ve been told we weren’t on BBC Gardeners World on Friday, so not sure if we will be on.
I received an email from Gillian Westray saying that Cyrus fledged in a large field with the sun shining at 12.45 today. He was 63 days old and weighed 37g. We really don’t think Cyrus would have made it without all the fantastic care and attention she gave him over the last couple of weeks. Cyrus was the 36th chick to fledge from Swift House this year and with his (or perhaps her) departure brings to an end our swift season. Here is a photo of Cyrus (on the left) with the last adult swift that Gillian is still caring for. Hopefully she can work her magic on that adult swift too.
Sunday 4th September
Yesterday I had an update from Gillian on Cyrus’s progress since we left him there on Tuesday. The head twitch and strange eye movements she thought could be a neurological problem seems to have been resolved with high doses of calcium gluconate and vitamin B complex. However getting him to eat properly in the first few days was a major problem. He was desperate to fledge and had become stressed, so much so that any food was regurgitated or shot out the other end almost immediately. To help reduce his stress levels he was placed with another swift she is looking after and it seems to have worked. He’s much more calm and content now. To try and get him to eat properly she is now feeding him one large vitamin infused waxworm every 15 minutes. She says he is keeping more food inside now. Hopefully having stabilised the situation she hopes to make some progress on building up his strength and weight over the coming days. We can’t thank her enough for all the work she’s done so far.
Although we haven’t been officially told we may be on Gardeners World on Friday 9th September (BBC2 8pm). We were filmed on 1st July 2021 which we remember was a hot day and was tiring but enjoyable. Not sure if we will be on and if so which bits of filming they’ll show. Below are a few photos that Jane took.
Wednesday 31st August
11am. Although I was feeding Cyrus a mixture of live crickets, wax worms and flies, Gillian suspected the diet I was providing was lacking in vital vitamins and minerals. She’s just sent me this list of supplements. As I always get a few chicks each year that need a bit of extra care and attention I’m going to order them now in readiness for next season.
Sometimes you get a gut feeling that somethings not quite right and despite your best efforts things just aren’t as they should be. I got that gut feeling yesterday with Cyrus who was refusing to eat, unable to fly and losing weight. As much as I wanted to keep him here I knew deep down he needed specialist care. So yesterday afternoon we took him to Gillian Westray. She’s the best rehabber in the country so if anyone can help Cyrus she can. She lives about an hour’s drive from us in a little village nestled on the edge of the beautiful Cotswolds. Although now semi-retired as a rehabber she still looks after the odd chick or two. She said he was in good condition but went straight to work and fed Cyrus immediately with a supplement rich diet. She thought there were two likely reasons for his predicament. The first and less serious perhaps was a lack of vitamins and minerals in his diet. This she could rectify fairly quickly. The second was more serious. She thinks he could have a neurological problem, as she noticed a slight twitch in his head movement. This could explain why he was rejected by his parents in the first place. If this is the case then it’s virtually impossible to do anything to help, but Gillian is really dedicated and will try her best. Lets hope it’s not that. As soon as I get anymore information I’ll update the blog immediately. That not may be for a few days, so I’ll only update when I have more news. I’ll also include my end of season report then.
Tuesday 30th August
Yesterday afternoon I saw Cyrus doing some rapid wing flapping which was the first time I’ve actually seen him do it. However when I tried to release him later that night he failed once again. I’m also having to help feed him more now as he’s extremely reluctant to accept food. As a result he’s losing a little weight each day which is concerning. I’ll carry on for a couple more days, but I may have to take him to a specialist swift rehabber to take over if there’s no improvement. I’ll update the blog again when I have more information.
Monday 29th August
Still no joy with Cyrus. I’ve been trying to release him every morning for the last three days, but he seems reluctant to go. I’m going to try again this evening to see if it makes any difference. I’ve been looking after him since 30th July. During that time I’ve grown really fond of him. I’ll be sad to see him go, but he really should be on his way now.
Sunday 28th August
I tried to release Cyrus yesterday but he made it obvious he wasn’t ready to go. Preferring to sit on my hand and look at me instead. It’s still a bit of a struggle to get him to eat, but I’m managing to get enough food inside him to keep his weight around 39g. I’ll try again to release him today.
Saturday 27th August
As I suspected the single adult in nb3 south didn’t return last night. With its departure all the swifts have now gone from Swift House, except for little Cyrus. Checking my records they were with us for just shy of 4 months. The first one arrived on 2nd May and the last left yesterday on 26th August.
Cyrus is 44 days old, weighs 39g with wings over 16cm long. However he’s still not eating that much, but I have worked out a better way to feed him. If I stroke his back he starts to trill loudly, as his opens his beak I pop in a cricket or wax worm. I can normally get him to eat about four before he’s had enough and shuts up shop! I shall try and release him later on this evening.
Friday 26th August
The sibling of Cyrus fledged from nb3 south yesterday evening. It was 43 days old and the last chick in my boxes. Its single parent is still here this morning, however it is constantly preening itself in readiness to leave. I don’t expect it to return tonight, see photo below of last swift this season. That was the 35th chick to fledge this year, only Cyrus (43 days old) left now.
I’d like to thank Louise Bentley and Zoe Crossley on their expert advice yesterday regarding the behaviour of hand-reared chicks. I was getting concerned about Cyrus not eating and not exercising very much so I sought their advice. I just don’t have the knowledge or expertise that they have. They are both experienced swift rehabbers who look after dozens of young swifts each year. They’ve been there and seen it when it comes to hand-rearing, so it was really comforting to be able to task them questions about Cyrus. The good news is Cyrus is doing OK and his behaviour is perfectly normal. These are the signs indicating he could be ready to go. They suggested I try releasing him today and see what happens. If he’s ready to go they said he’ll be off like a shot.
8am. Just tried to release him but showed no intention of going, just looked at me and Jane instead!
Thursday 25th August
Cyrus is 42 days old, weighs 39g and his wings are almost 16cms long. Over the last few days hes lost 4 grams and is looking much sleeker now in appearance. I just need to see him exercising his wings a bit more before I attempt to release him. One thing I have noticed is that he’s starting to pick up food by himself. To feed him I normally squash up a bolus of crickets, wax worms and houseflies. I then gently offer it to him by tapping his beak. If he’s hungry he’ll fully open his beak and swallow the whole bolus. Over the last couple of days he’s been refusing most feeds despite my best efforts to encourage him to eat. Whilst he refuses my efforts to feed him he readily picks up any little bits of the bolus that fall into the nest cup. I’ve even started now to leave the odd small cricket and wax worm in front of him so he can pick them up when he’s hungry. Maybe this slight change in behaviour from being fed by me to feeding himself is all part of the fledging process? By finding food for himself he’s becoming more independent. I wonder if this also happens naturally in the wild.
Wednesday 24th August
Yesterday Ed Drewitt a naturalist, wildlife and fossil detective and friend of ours came over to ring Cyrus. We’ve known Ed since we appeared on BBC Springwatch back in 2015 – here is a link. In 2018 he put a ring on another chick we’d hand-reared named Jack. We also appeared together on BBC News during the lockdown in 2020 talking about birdsong – here is a link. His passion is urban Peregrine Falcons. He’s been studying them for over 15 years and specialises in colour ringing their chicks and identifying what they have been eating. His latest book Raptor Prey Remains has just been published. Below are a few photos of Ed ringing Cyrus and recording his unique identifying number – SB25674.
Tuesday 23rd August
Back in June I posted on the blog about the lack of insects in our garden, bees in particular. I’m pleased to say since then there has been a marked increase in their numbers, no doubt helped by this exceptionally hot and dry summer. The agapanthus and echinacea have been real magnets, drawing in large numbers of both honey and bumblebees on a daily basis. Another favourite is gaura lindheimeri, commonly known as beeblossom which has certainly lived up to its name.
Looking forward I want to try and preserve as much water as possible, but I also want to continue growing plants that provide food for insects. This year I’ve watered my garden much more often than I wanted to. So I’m going to change some of the traditional plants I grow to more drought tolerant varieties. To create a good habitat for insects I try to provide them with a regular source of food. Bees, butterflies and hoverflies are active from early spring right up until October/November, so I need a succession of different open-fronted flowering plants. I try to have at least 2 or 3 different plants flowering at any one time. At the moment the likes of verbena bonariensis, rudbeckias and dahlias are just coming into their own. These late flowering plants will continue flowering right up to the first frost and are a vital source of food for insects at this time of year. Here’s a link to our Bristol Garden website showing some of the plants we grow.
Monday 22nd August
Cyrus has started to refuse feeds and is eating less often now. Yesterday he had his last feed around 6pm. When I tried to feed him after that he just turned his head away. Normally he pecks at my fingers begging for food. I suspect his stomach is starting to shrink to its adult size. When chicks first hatch they have an insatiable appetite. Their time in the nest is limited so they must eat as much as possible to develop properly. They need to grow from a tiny chick weighing only a couple of grams to a young adult in just six weeks. However in the last few days before they fledge they don’t need quite as much food as they did. They don’t need to put on any more weight, in fact they might even have to lose a few grams. Their feathers are the right length and fully formed. All they need to do is build up their wing muscles to enable them to fly. I think Cyrus is at this point in his development. However I’m pleased to say he did wolf down his first feed of the day this morning!
Cyrus’s sibling in the box above the patio gets a good preening from its parent this morning, see this video. The chick is 40 days old and not far from fledging. You’ll notice that particular attention is focused on the parts it can’t quite reach itself, namely its head and neck. Its constantly trilling all the time its being preened. I think it must like it!
Sunday 21st August
Cyrus is 38 days old, weighs 44g and his wings are about 14cm long.
There are three good indicators to help determine when a swift chick is ready to fledge. Its age, its weight and the length of its wings. Chicks normally fledge around the 6 week mark (42 days), however it’s only a very rough guide. I’ve had chicks fledge as early as 38 days and as late as 59 days. Weight is a more reliable indicator. The ideal fledging weight should be somewhere between 40-45g. Finally, the length of the wing from the shoulder to the tip should be around 16 cm long and cross by at least 3 cm. At the moment Cyrus only meets one of the three indicators, his weight. I reckon he’s got still got another week to go.
Saturday 20th August
Whilst cleaning out my boxes yesterday I came across the mummified remains of a soft egg in nb4 north. I wrote about it in my blog back on 6th June together with a photo of the egg in the box. A soft egg is where the hard outer shell doesn’t form due to a lack of calcium in her diet. You can clearly see the yolk inside the dried, leathery outer layer. The pair in nb4 north didn’t lay any viable eggs and failed to raise any young this year. Hopefully she’ll have better luck next year.
In my only box still with swifts in nb3 south, Cyrus’s sibling (38 days) is being well looked after by its single parent. By sheer good luck I was sitting outside last evening with Cyrus in my hand when his parent flew into view. It was collecting a few last insects before coming into roost. After a few minutes feeding over the garden it swooped down and entered the box above our heads at great speed. Cyrus watched it all the way back in. For a few moments we could clearly hear the frenzied wing flapping of the hungry chick above as it was fed. Then it all went quiet again so we continued with our observations of the outside world. We watched the clouds roll pass, the trees swaying and rustling in the wind, the other birds gliding silently by.
Friday 19th August
Yesterday I started to take down my boxes. The beauty of having cameras is you can see everything inside, so I knew all the swifts on the north and west sides had long gone. I take them down every year mainly to prolong the life of the cameras. Surprisingly it doesn’t take me that long to do either, only a couple of hours at most. I’ll give them a quick once over before storing them in the basement. I’ll also see if I can do something to remove the camera flare on the six new cameras I fitted this year. A little project to kept me busy! Now they’re down the house looks kind of bare.
In the wild swift chicks start to peer out of the entrance holes a week or so before they fledge. So to help Cyrus I’ve started to take him outside for a few minutes each day. We sit on the bench on the patio and I let him have a good look at around at what’s going on. He watches everything and seems particularly fascinated by other birds. However if it’s gulls or crows flying overhead he instinctively cowers back into the safety of my hand. It’s almost as if he knows he has to be wary of those types of birds. A big fat blue bottle fly buzzed around us and Cyrus watched it intensely as it went by. He’s never seen a live fly before. I wondered if he knows that’s what real food looks like!
Thursday 18th August
I’ve just weighed Cyrus (35 days) and his weight seems to be hovering around the 43-44g mark which is fine. The ideal fledging weight is somewhere between 40-45g. In the next few days he should start to do press-ups and rapid wing flapping as he strengthens his wing muscles. Difficult to say when he’ll be ready to go, but my guess not for another 10 days.
The single chick in nb3 south is doing well and still be well fed by it’s single parent. Although it’s only a day older than Cyrus it looks bigger and more developed. That’s probably down to a more varied diet brought in by the adult. Here are photos of them both this morning.
Wednesday 17th August
It absolutely poured down yesterday afternoon with over 25mm of rain in just under an hour. I was worried that the single adult in nb3 south might decide to leave early. However my fears we unfounded as it came back just before 8pm, albeit soaking wet!
Most of Cyrus’s downy fluffy down has been replaced by feathers now and he’s beginning to look more and more elegant as each day passes. He trills as soon as he hears us enter the room, although he doesn’t eat quite as much as he used too. Sometimes he even refuses to eat all at. He’s 34 days old and weighs 44g.
Yesterday the Humming-bird Hawk-moth returned. This time Jane managed to video it feeding. It’s amazing the speed of it wings, it really does live up to its name!
Tuesday 16th August
The good news is the single parent in nb3 south is still here and bringing back food on a regular basis. The single chick in nb3 south is 34 days old and looking really healthy. Photos of the parent and chick taken this morning. The chick is on the left hand side with a whiter face, but getting difficult to tell them apart as they are similar size.
Cyrus weight remains at 44g. However I have noticed a slight change in his appetite, he seems to be eating slightly less food each mealtime. I think he’s beginning the final phase of his development and beginning to get ready to fledge. He’s 33 days old.
Monday 15th August
Almost at the end of the swift season at Swift House. Only one box with swifts in now, nb3 south. In that box is Cyrus’s brother or sister (33 days) and one parent. I reckon it’s got another 7 to 10 days before it fledges, so I’m hoping the adult stays to the end. I was also thinking of putting Cyrus back in that box in a few days time, but I’m not sure I will now. I don’t want to risk putting any extra pressure on the remaining adult or the chick, so I think I’ll hand feed Cyrus until he fledges.
Cyrus is 32 days old and weighs 44g. He has an insatiable appetite which is a really good sign. Here is a short video of him having his first feed of the day this morning. The main course consists of 6 crickets, mashed up into a tight ball, followed by 2 wax worms. If I can catch any blue bottles or house flies I add those as well. I try to feed him as least 8 times a day. The first feed is around 7am and the last around 9.30pm. In the video you can see his comfort blanket, or should I say sock! It’s an old thermal sock of mine which used to keep him warm when he was really tiny, but now he treats it like another swift and lovingly pecks at the soft edges after every feed.
Sunday 14th August
Rocky fledged from nb6 north yesterday evening. It was almost dark when he left. He was 54 days old. I think he realised his foster parent wasn’t coming back and decided it was time for him to go as well. That is 34 out of 36 now fledged. Only the single chick (32 days) in nb3 south and Cyrus (31 days) left to go.
Yesterday also brought some unexpected visitors to our house and garden. A baby wren decided to come inside. Perhaps it was trying to get out of the heat?! The blur in the centre of the middle photo is a humming-bird Hawk-moth. It was feeding on the flowers of the verbena sissinghurst. It’s a summer migrant that ventures across the channel in warm summers. Another summer migrant is the Jersey Tiger moth. It’s a beautiful moth I’d never seen before. It is active during the day with creamy white stripes on its forewing and bold orange underwings which looked striking when it flew around the pond.
Saturday 13th August
Last night at 8.45pm the fallen chick we found earlier fledged. After taking advice we kept it in the box all day to recover. We gave it nothing but water and just as the sun was setting we took it to a large open field near us. It was reluctant to go at first, but after a few minutes it went. We watched it fly, keeping close to the ground before disappearing between some trees at the bottom of the field. It was 40 days old. We tried to video it, but it was so quick we didn’t get it all – here is a link. That is 33 out of 36 now fledged.
I only have two boxes with swifts in now. In nb6 north there is 1 adult and 1 chick (54 days) named Rocky. In nb3 south there are 2 adults and 1 chick (31 days). Cyrus is now 30 days old and weighs 43g.
Friday 12th August
Both chicks (39 & 40 days) fledged from nb3 west yesterday, one in total darkness. However I’ve just found it on the garage roof this morning. It must have been the one I saw fledge in the dark last night. It seems OK thank goodness. I’ve put it in the box with Cyrus and will try to release it later on this morning. They are both 43g, but Cyrus needs to grow more. My plan to put Cyrus in nb3 west is now scuppered because the remaining adult will have departed thinking both of its chicks have fledged.
As I thought Rocky is taking full advantage of being the only chick in nb6 north and was well fed last night. I have a feeling he might stick around for a few more days. Here is a video of Rocky yesterday looking out of the box.
The other adult in nb3 south returned last night, however there’s still only one of them bringing back any food. A knowledgable swift friend Tim Collins suggested an alternative reason as to why only one adult is bringing back food in this box.
“My best theory to explain this is that the bird that’s not helping raise the chicks is not their parent. This could be explained by one of the original pair going missing just as (or soon after) the chicks hatched. The other bird has soldiered on but being a first time parent has struggled, it has however found time to attract a new mate in preparation for next year. That bird is now roosting in the box but, as the young are not theirs, is not helping out. I’d guess the new bird is actually the female as if it was a male I suspect it might actually attack the chicks – I recall reading about a case where a new bird attracted by a lone adult raising young did just that. I’m working on the basis that the female will be less aggressive than a male”.
I thought perhaps the bird was just too inexperienced, but I’m not so sure now after reading Tim’s theory.
Thursday 11th August
Two more chicks fledged yesterday. The third one in nb5 south (51 days) and the third one in nb6 north (55 days). 31 out of 36 have now gone, only 4 more left in my boxes, plus Cyrus (28 days) being hand reared by me (5 in total). Nb3 south has 1 adult and 1 chick (29 days). Nb3 west has 1 adult and 2 chicks (39 & 40 days). Nb6 north has 1 adult and 1 chick named Rocky, who was looking out of the box this morning (see photo below). He’s 52 days old and ready to go. However he just might hang around for another day or two. He’s now the only chick left in that box. so he’s guaranteed all the feeds. Worth hanging about for a bit longer!
Wednesday 10th August
Noon. Just had an email from Steve in Wadeford saying Brizzle fledged on Monday night around 9pm. He was 49 days old. Only 6 chicks left in my boxes plus Cyrus who I’m hand rearing. That’s 29 out of 36 chicks now fledged only 7 more to go..
The good news no further adults have gone so their numbers remain the same as yesterday. Nb3 south – 2 adults, 1 chick 28 days. Nb5 south – 1 adult, 1 chick 51 days. Nb 6 north- 1 adult, 2 chicks 51 days (Rocky) & 55 days. Nb3 west – 1 adult, 2 chicks 38 & 39 days. Cyrus 27 days (weight 42g).
Tuesday 9th August
I think my plan of putting Cyrus into nb3 west might have been scuppered. Last night only one adult returned. I have a feeling that the other one is going to leave early as well. The two chicks in that box are 36 and 37 days old and spend most of their time peering out. They could go anytime now. Everything else remains the same as yesterdays blog.
Monday 8th August
Steve Hyde sent me a couple of lovely photos of Brizzle looking out of his box in Wadeford. He’s 49 days old and almost ready to go. The two chicks he was fostered with fledged about a week ago, so he’s had all the attention and food since then. I just hope he’s not too overweight!
Cyrus is 25 days old and continues to make good progress, he now weighs 41g.
Rocky is still in nb6 north alongside the remaining chick. Both seem to be doing ok despite the fact that only one adult returned last night. Rocky is 49 days old and his companion is 53 days old.
In nb3 south there is one chick (26 days). Both parents are still here, but I think only one is bringing back food. That’s the box I took Cyrus from.
In nb3 west there are two chicks (35 & 36 days). Both parents are still here and bringing back food on a regular basis. I hope to put Cyrus into that box on Friday.
The only other box with swifts in is nb5 south. In that box there is one chick (49 days) and one adult. I heard lots of wing flapping from inside that box yesterday, so I think its getting ready to go. No other swifts in any of my other boxes.
Sunday 7th August
Yesterday Rocky the hand reared chick came home. To recap Rocky has already had quite a journey in his short life. He started out in nb4 south, the smallest one of three chicks. Unfortunately being the smallest he struggled to get fed so I removed him back on 29th June. He weighed only 10g and was close to death. He wasn’t the only chick I was hand feeding as I had another two in my care at the time. I fed all three chicks for about a week before putting him back into nb4 south on 7th July. He was much stronger and bigger and weighed 33g. However he didn’t stay long in that box. The next day I swapped him for the largest chick in nb5 south as their respective sizes were a better match to the other chicks in those boxes. Everything seemed ok for a while until 21st July. He was struggling to feed again and when I weighed him he was only 15g. So I removed him for a second time. A couple of days later I handed him over to our friend Tom to look after. Rocky has been with him until yesterday. He’s 48 days old and a day or so from fledging. We thought it would be good to let Rocky fledge naturally. So we placed him in nb6 north. That box still has one chick in it aged 52 days. Below are a couple of photos of both chicks this morning. Rocky is the left hand chick in both photos. If all goes well both should fledge in the next day or two.
Cyrus remains at 38g which surprised me as his appetite is amazing. Perhaps he’s going through a grow spurt.
Saturday 6th August
I’ve been thinking about what to do with Cyrus. I could hand feed him until he fledges in 3 weeks time or put him back a box. Nb3 west has two chicks about 10 days older than Cyrus. They are due to fledge around 15th August. Both parents are still here and bringing back food on a regular basis. I’m thinking of putting Cyrus into that box a couple of days before the chicks go, maybe on Friday. I’m hoping the parents will carry on feeding him once their own chicks have gone. However if that doesn’t work I could place him back into his original box with his sibling. Although both parents are still here only one (the female?) is bringing back food. If I put him back in about a week before he fledges it just might work. By that time both chicks won’t need as many feeds as they will be starting to slim down to a fledging weight of between 40-45g. The single parent should be able to bring in enough feeds for both of them. I just want to give him a chance to fledge with his own kind. I think it’s worth a go, after all I can always hand feed him if my plan fails.
I’ve just weighed him this morning and he’s up to 38g. If I can get him close to 50g by next Friday, then I’ll put him in nb3 west.
Friday 5th August
Cyrus is now 22 days old and weighs 37g. Gently chirping whenever we go into the room and getting stronger every day. The nest is an old flowerpot with a thermal sock for warmth and comfort. The shoebox has a lid to keep it dark. Here are a few photos taken this morning.
Thursday 4th August
1pm. The second chick has just fledged from nb5 south (47days). That’s 28 fledged out of 36. Only 5 to go in my boxes. Plus Cyrus being hand reared by me, Rocky being hand reared by Tom and Brizzle in Steve Hyde’s box (8 in total).
9.30am. I’ve just seen one of the chicks fledge from nb5 south (49days). It almost flew into one of our conifer trees in the garden as it tried to gain height. It did a few circuits above our house, rising higher and higher each time before disappearing over the house. That’s 27 fledged out of 36.
The four chicks in my boxes which I thought were ready to leave seem reluctant to go. This year their average fledging date was around the 42-43 day mark, but these last four are way over that. The ages of three in nb5 south are 45, 47 & 49 days. The singleton in nb6 north is 49 days. The two chicks being hand-reared are also still here. Rocky and Brizzle are both 45 days old. Closer to home Cyrus is 3 weeks old today and now weighs 34g.
Wednesday 3rd August
The number of chicks in my boxes remains the same on 7. Cyrus continues to put on weight and now weighs 30g.
I think I might have found the reason why Cyrus was so small. I’ve been watching that box, nb3 south since I removed him just to make sure everything was OK. Just to recap. I removed Cyrus last Saturday morning. He weighed only 16g compared to his sibling who weighed 36g. The adults are first time breeders who laid late in the season. Their eggs were laid on 21st & 23rd June. The first one hatched on 13th July and the second the following day on the 14th. Everything seemed fine with both chicks growing at the same rate. However towards the end of July I began to notice one chick growing much faster than the other. So I watched the box closely for a couple of days. During that time I only ever saw the bigger chick being fed. On 30th July I intervened and removed the smaller chick. However I’ve carried on monitoring that box and something very interesting has become apparent. Only one of the adults (the female?) is bringing back food. The other adult (the male?) only seems to return at night to roost. When it enters at night it completely ignores the chick, puts its head down and jams itself in the corner until the chick loses interest in it. If my observations are correct that would explain the size difference between the two chicks. The female either consciously or unconsciously made the decision only to feed one chick at the expense of the other. Unfortunately I was hoping to place Cyrus back in the box, but I think in the light of my findings that might be impossible. I’ve never seen this type of behaviour before and I’ve never read anything about it either, so I’m at a loss to explain why. My only theory is the male is too young and inexperienced.
Tuesday 2nd August
All quiet yesterday with no further fledging so their numbers remain the same at 7 in my boxes. In two of the boxes that are due to fledge any day, one nb6 north had a foster chick placed in it. The other nb5 south had the 3 chicks I temporarily hand fed for a time. Most of the chicks this year have fledged around the 42-43 day mark. What’s interesting is the age of these 4 remaining chicks. The one in nb6 north is 47 days old. In nb5 south their ages range between 43, 45 and 47 days. It’s not very scientific but it seems like foster chicks need a few extra days to fledge. Not that surprising though as the reason they were fostered in the first place was because they were struggling and falling behind their other siblings.
Cyrus continues doing well on his rehabilitation journey. He trills constantly for food and his eyes are now fully open. He weighs 25g.
A couple of days ago I was sent this lovely photo of three chicks looking out of their box by Paul Steans. I think they look absolutely stunning.
Monday 1st August
One more chick fledged yesterday. The last one of three from nb4 south (44d). That’s 26 fledged out of 36. Only 7 to go in my boxes. Plus Cyrus being hand reared by me, Rocky being hand reared by Tom and Brizzle in Steve Hyde’s box (10 in total).
Cyrus continues his good progress. He’s a lot more active than when I first rescued him and begs for food ever time he sees me. He now weighs 22g.
Sunday 31st July
Yesterday I removed the smallest chick from nb3 south. I had noticed over the last couple of days how much smaller it was in comparison to its sibling. I never saw it getting fed either. I only ever saw the bigger chick being fed by its parents so yesterday morning after the adults when out I weighed both of them. The big chick weighed 36g (16 days old), whereas the little one just 16g (15 days old). I’m not sure why the adults had stopped feeding it, but by doing so they had abandoned it to die. I made the decision to remove it there and then.
As it was abandoned by them I’ve named it Cyrus after the ancient ruler of Persia in Greek mythology who was also rejected by his parents. Cyrus was starving and immediately wolfed down a few wax worms. I shall feed him for the next week or so. If I can get his weight back up I might try putting him back in the same box. However if that fails I shall have to hand rear him to fledging, but that’s only as a last result. I’ve just weighed Cyrus this morning and its put on 4g already. It now weighs 20g.
No chicks fledged yesterday so I still have 9 in my boxes, plus Rocky being hand reared by Tom and Brizzle in Steve Hyde’s box (11 in total).
Saturday 30th July
Only one chick fledged yesterday. The second chick from nb4 south (43d). That’s 25 fledged out of 36. Only 9 to go in my boxes, plus Rocky being hand reared by Tom and Brizzle in Steve Hyde’s box (11 in total).
The 9 chicks are split between 5 boxes. There is one chick left in both nb4 south and nb6 north and three in nb5 south. They are all due to fledge any day now. After they’ve gone the next two to go are in nb3 west. They’re due to leave on the 15th August. My very last pair of chicks are in nb3 south. They’re not due to leave until the 25th August. However in this box one chick is considerably smaller than its sibling despite being roughly the same age. Both adults are still here so I’m not sure why it’s lagging behind. Perhaps it’s because they are first time breeders and aren’t so adept at bringing back food? I don’t know, but when they’ve gone out I’ll weigh both chicks and make a decision on what to do next.
On Wednesday I filmed this short video of the remaining chick in nb5 west doing press-ups. It really does get carried away! It fledged the following day.
Friday 29th July
Another 4 chicks fledged yesterday. The third one from nb5 west (45d). The first one from nb4 south (44d) and two from nb6 north (42d & 43d). That’s 24 fledged out of 36. Only 10 to go in my boxes, plus Rocky being hand reared by Tom and Brizzle in Steve Hyde’s box (12 in total).
Not only are the chicks leaving but so are some of the adults. After the last chick fledged in nb5 west yesterday only one adult returned to roost last night. Also in both nb4 & 5 south there has been only one adult for the last couple of days. However it’s not uncommon for one adult to leave a day or two before their chicks fledge and I think this is what has happened in both these cases.
Thursday 28th July
Yesterday was a mega fledging day. In total 8 chicks went. 3 in the morning just before 8am and another 5 in the evening after 9pm. The chicks that went in the morning were 2 from nb5 west (43d & 44d) and the last one from nb6 west (43d). The ones that went in the evening were all 3 from nb2 north (42d,43d & 44d). The single chicks from nb12 west (43d) and nb1 north (46d).
We had Graeme Bowd, a moderator from the Facebook group Swift & Swallow SOS come to film us yesterday for a short video he is doing about swifts. He wants to set up a Just Giving page to help raise funds to support swift carers across the country. Most of the carers are kind-hearted individuals who fund this care out of their own pockets. This year they have had over 1000 swift chicks to look after. We know from personal experience that caring for a grounded swift involves a lot of time and effort and it’s expensive as well. Swifts need a specialist diet and only eat live insects. It costs about £10 a week to feed a swift and some chicks may need looking after for up to 4 weeks. He felt that some carers, especially those who look after dozens of swifts could do with a little financial help. That’s why we think his Just Giving page is wonderful idea. Once Graeme has set it up we will add a link to the blog.
Wednesday 27th July
Four chicks fledged yesterday evening. The third one from nb1 west (43d). Two from nb6 west (2 x 45d). The third one from nb3 north (42d). That’s 12 fledged out of 36. Only 22 to go in my boxes plus Rocky being hand reared by Tom and Brizzle in Steve Hyde’s box (24 in total). All this fledging activity didn’t go unnoticed by the male sparrowhawk either. He came swooping in as the swifts circled the house, but thankfully missed its intended target. He then retreated to a nearby roof for a while to watch the action from afar, before disappearing back into the woods.
I actually saw one fledge last night at exactly 9.25pm. I was looking at the camera in nb6 west when one chick decided it was time to go. It was all over really quickly. It just got up from the nest, moved towards the entrance hole, peered out for a few seconds and was gone in a flash. I rushed outside to see where it was and I saw it being greeted by the other birds in the colony. It was in the middle of at least 15 other swifts. They were high up in a tight ball, screaming excitedly as they circled the fledgling in turn. To me it looked like they were welcoming it to the colony. Perhaps in those few minutes the new fledgling is building a mental picture of its new surroundings so it knows where to return to in the future. I watched them for a few minutes as they rose higher and higher, their screams became fainter and fainter and then they were gone.
Tuesday 26th July
A single chick fledged yesterday. The second one from nb3 north (43 days). Only 26 chicks left in my boxes now, plus Rocky and Brizzle to go.
Another day with no screaming activity at all, just the adults with chicks returning occasionally to feed them. All very quiet and rather flat.
Monday 25th July
Another unusually quiet day for this time in the swift season. It feels more like mid August rather than the end of July. All a little strange considering I still have 27 chicks and over 30 adults left in the colony. No chicks fledged and no screaming parties. Nothing really to report.
Sunday 24th July
Three more chicks fledged yesterday. The first chick in nb3 north (42 days). The second chick from nb1 west (41 days). The third chick from nb2 south (42 days). That reduces the number of chicks in my boxes to 27.
The first adults have left. The pair of non-breeders in nb4 north have gone. I also think the prospectors might have gone as well. Its been unusually quiet here since we got back from Devon on Thursday, which has surprised me as most chicks are just about to fledge. I was hoping to see lots of screaming activity around the house as they try to entice the chicks out, but I’ve not seen any real activity at all. I’m hoping they’ll come back when the weather brightens up later in the week for one final soiree before the season ends.
Rocky the little chick I was looking after was picked up by Tom our local swift rehabber last night. It’s 34 days old and weighed around 40g. Tom will take good care of it now until it fledges in a couple of weeks time.
Saturday 23rd July
Yesterday two more chicks fledged. The first chick from nb1 west (41 days) and the second chick from nb2 south (43 days).
Out of a total of 42 eggs, 41 hatched. 5 chicks have died during the season leaving 36 chicks. From those 36 chicks 4 have now fledged.
Two chicks have been permanently removed. I’m looking after the one pictured below until this evening when our local swift rehabber Tom will take over. We’ve named him Rocky as he’s a little fighter. When I removed it from nb5 south on Tuesday it only weighed 15g. However what it lacks in size it more than makes up in appetite! It now weighs an astonishing 33g. That’s doubling its weight in less than 4 days! It is 33 days old and should fledge in about a weeks time, but because of all the set backs he’s had I don’t think he’ll be ready for at least another couple of weeks.
The other chick removed from my boxes has been fostered into a swift box in Wadeford, near Chard. They’ve named him Brizzle and its 33 days old.
That leaves me with 30 chicks in my boxes. However the next week should be a fledging fest with up to another 26 going before the month is out. That will leave me with just 4 chicks in August. Two are due to go around 15th and the very last pair should leave around the 25th.
Friday 22nd July
Out of a total of 42 eggs, 41 hatched. 5 chicks have died during the season leaving 36 chicks. From those 36 chicks 2 have now fledged. The first one went last Sunday. That was Blue the hand reared chick. A second chick fledged whilst we were away, it was from nb2 south (41days).
Two chicks have been removed. One is being hand reared by me until the weekend when our local swift rehabber Tom will take over. The other has been fostered. The number of chicks still in my boxes is 32. Eight boxes have 3 chicks, three boxes have 2 and two boxes have 1.
Jane has written this following update, as I’ve been really busy trying to work out what’s been going on in my boxes!
We’ve just had another swift break in Devon. This time taking two of our swifts chicks in a shoebox with us. Mark fed them every couple of hours and they’ve put on weight. The plan was to give them to Tom on Saturday who was keen to hand-rear them following the successful fledge of Blue on Monday.
However the plan changed as on Thursday night when we got a message from our swift friend Steve Howells near Chard. He told us that a swift chick had been found by a birder a couple miles from his house. Steve has only recently been bitten by the swift bug and has his first nest with 3 chicks. He wasn’t at home so couldn’t help very quickly so it was taken to someone else. We then had a message from another swift friend Steve Hyde in Wadeford saying that he had be given a swift chick and asking for advice. He has 10 pairs nesting around his house and they have been there for decades. Then later on Steve Howells discovered there were only two chicks in his nest and the chick could be his. What an amazing co-incidence and also that both Steves contacted us! Steve and Sally Hyde have a swift colony in their outbuilding and have an amazing set up with clear Live pictures on large screen TVs. His nests even have a cooling air system he’s just invented. Mark mentioned our first visit in the blog a few years ago and he was very envious then.
We were planning on coming home yesterday so decided to make a detour and met up with both Steves. The grounded chick seemed fine but it was only 29g and therefore not ready to fledge. However unfortunately it may think that it is! This happened to one of our chicks a few years ago. Several times when I opened the front door there was a chick sitting on the doormat who jumped out of the box! Mark decided to hand rear that chick until it was ready to fly as it was obviously a ‘jumper’. Steve Howells was keen to do that too. Mark showed him how to hand feed the chick and also fed the two chicks we had in the car. Once it gets to 40g or more it should be strong enough to release.
Whilst talking to Steve Hyde and Sally it was suggested that perhaps that we could foster the largest of our two chicks into one of their nestboxes. They had a pair of chicks roughly the same age (4 weeks) and slightly bigger than our chick. Because of the abundance of insects locally Mark thinks the weight difference won’t be a problem. Therefore we added it to the nest in his outbuilding and watched it settle in with the other two chicks on the huge TV. Mark is still so envious of his set up and it was lovely to hear all about what they’re doing to help their swifts in their area.
Last night Steve Hyde told us that the fostered chick is doing well and they’ve named it Brizzle after its birthplace! We’ve named our hand-reared chick Rocky as it’s a real fighter. Mark has had to remove it from the nest box twice to hand feed it and now it’s been on a trip to Devon and back.
Thursday 21st July
Late on Tuesday afternoon we went away to Devon for a few days, but just before we did I changed a few things. One of the chicks in nb5 south was much smaller than its siblings. It was still quite lively but just not strong enough to muscle in for a feed. It was the smallest of 3 chicks I hand fed and placed into that box about a week ago. So at the last minute just before we left I swapped it with the largest chick from nb5 north who was much close to the size and weight of the other two chicks. The little chick weighed only 15g now compared to 34g when I originally placed it back into that box. However it remembered me and fed almost immediately.
We’ve just got back and I think several chicks may have fledged. Difficult to tell at the moment exactly how many, but I should be able to work out who’s gone later tonight.
Tuesday 19th July
The two chicks I removed yesterday are doing OK. One is very easy to feed and takes food from my hand. The other is not so easy and has to be force fed. But they are safer with me than in the box. The good news is they’ve both put on some weight since yesterday. They now weigh 34g and 36g respectively.
I asked the question on the swift forums as to whether the new mate could harm the chicks. The overwhelming response was yes. Fortunately it doesn’t happen that often thank goodness, but there is a lot of evidence, some of it quite graphic of new mates injuring and sometimes even killing swift chicks. I shall have to hand rear both these chicks from now on as I have no room in any of my boxes to foster them. They are just over 4 weeks old and underweight for their age. They only weighed 30g and 33g when I rescued them yesterday. They should be somewhere between 45-50g. I think the reason why they were so underweight is a combination of the new mate causing trouble and only one parent feeding them.
Yesterday was extremely hot. I’m not sure how hot it was in Bristol, but I suspect somewhere around the mid 30’s. The chicks in my boxes seemed to cope reasonably well with the heat. Most were by the entrance holes peering out. I’m not sure if this was because it was so hot or because they are ready to fledge. I suspect a bit of both. Another thing I noticed was several adults stayed out all night. I presume because it was much cooler outside than in. Another very hot day today is forecast. Tomorrow is meant to be much cooler thank goodness. As before I’ll only update the blog when there is new news about our colony.
Monday 18th July
11am update. Things have moved at apace this morning. A couple of weeks ago I lost one adult in nb5 north. At the time that box had 3 chicks in it. I fostered one straight away and left the other two there for the single adult to raise. Then about a week ago a second adult turned up. I wasn’t sure at the time if it was the original mate returning or a newcomer. Well over the last couple of days the answer has become a lot clearer. The new bird had become extremely aggressive towards both chicks. It was pecking them dangerously around the eyes and digging its claws into their backs. It also tried to drag one to the entrance hole. I presume to throw it out? I think it must be a new mate. Rather than wait for something awful to happen I’ve removed both chicks. If I can I will try and foster them into my boxes if space becomes available. In the meantime I’ll hand-feed them. Here’s a short video of me feeding one of them. It was starving and readily took food from my hand without me having to force it.
This record breaking heatwave couldn’t have come at a worse time for our swift chicks. The heat will be unbearable for many. Sadly many may fall to the ground trying to escape their extremely hot nest sites. However amidst all of this bad news we do have a good news story to share.
On 2nd July I decided to remove the largest chick from nb1 north after one of its parents went missing. Unfortunately I didn’t have any suitable boxes to foster it in because it was so big. Luckily our good friend Tom Carter, a primary school teacher in Olveston came to the rescue once again. Over the last couple of years he has been mentioned in my blogs for hand-rearing chicks that we were unable to foster into our boxes. Once again he took the latest swift chick with him into school, so he could feed it at break times. It became a hit with the school children who named it Blue. They thought its claws looked liked a velociraptor from the latest Jurassic Park movie, named Blue. Pretty observant I think. I must say I wish I had a teacher like Tom when I was at school.
Yesterday it was time for Blue to make its maiden flight. It was 38 days old and weighed 44g and was ready to go. Here is a lovely video of the moment it went. Our heart-felt thanks once again go to Tom and his girlfriend for doing such an amazing job. Blue is now on his way to Africa, hopefully meeting up with a few swift friends on the way.
Sunday 17th July
Sadly reports of grounded swift chicks are starting to appear on several swift facebook groups and we haven’t even seen the hottest temperatures yet. What’s also very concerning is some animal rescue centres are now refusing to take in any grounded birds for fear of catching Avian flu. There is however a facebook group that tries to match swift carers with grounded swifts, so if you don’t find someone locally to take in your grounded chick it is worth posting on https://www.facebook.com/groups/swiftsos. They’ve been doing brilliant work matching up fallen chicks with swift rehabbers all across the country.
After the drama of Friday in nb3 south, both chicks are doing really well. I filmed this short video yesterday of the chicks being fed.
I’m also very chuffed with the three chicks I hand fed for a while. If you look back at my blog on 29th and 30th June that was when I first rescued them. They were tiny, almost naked and blind. One weighed just 10g, another 12g and the third 19g. I fed them for about a week to try and build their strength back up. On 6th July I put them all into nb6 south, by that time they all weighed about 34g. Below is a photo of them all yesterday. They’re about 4 weeks old now and look like proper little swift chicks.
Saturday 16th July
The little chick I put back into its nest yesterday is doing fine in nb3 south. This is a new pair in this box and it is their first year at breeding. When the eggs were first laid back in June one bird almost flicked an egg out whilst changing over incubating duties. See my blog on 24th June. Luckily the rope rim saved that egg on that particular occasion. I suspect the same thing happened yesterday, but this time the chick wasn’t so fortunate and was flicked out by accident. It must have been karma that we came home just when we did. Any longer and I think the little chick would have died. What is strange though is although the adult bird can see the chick it won’t make any effort to save it. Once its out of the nest all parental ties are gone. I couldn’t wait for the adult to leave so I had to gently move it off the nest to replace the chick. It didn’t seem too bothered by my intervention and resumed incubating duties a few minutes later. Last night the little chick had fully recovered from its ordeal and I watched both chicks being fed. In the LH photo you can see the chick out of the nest in the bottom right hand corner. The RH photo is just after I replaced the chick back into the nest.
All the chicks in my other boxes are still here and doing fine. They seem to be coping OK with the heat so far. However I am really worried about Monday and Tuesday when the temperature is set to rise into the mid to high 30’s, not so much for my boxes but for all those chicks under roof tiles. I fear we’re going to see quite a few of them fall out in an effort to escape the heat.
Friday 15th July
Just got back from a few days away in Devon. Haven’t had time to really check all my boxes but both eggs have hatched in nb3 south. I suspect looking at the size of them, one hatched on the 13th the other on the14th. One was out of the nest when we got home so I placed it back into the nest. Hopefully it will be OK. The number of chicks in my boxes now is 36. One chick has been removed and is being permanently hand reared. Five chick fatalities and one infertile egg out of a total of 42 eggs. Nine boxes have 3 chicks, three boxes have 2 and two boxes have 1.
Tuesday 12th July
Sitting in my garden yesterday I noticed the low number of honey and bumble bees. My garden is normally buzzing with them but thinking about it I’ve hardly seen any at all this summer. Very strange and also worrying. Maybe they were affected by the weather earlier in the season.
As the colony enters the final stages of its stay with me the dramas of last week are now a distant memory. It’s much calmer now thank goodness. The adults are busily bringing back food. All the chicks are growing fast and the first will be ready to fledge in just under two weeks time. The noisy prospectors chase adults back into their boxes it seems just for the sheer fun of it. Barring any unforeseen disaster, life in the colony now is basically the same from one day to the next. Therefore I have decided to only update the blog when something unusual happens. I hope I haven’t put the jinx on things now I’ve said that!
Current status – The number of chicks in my boxes is 33. One chick has been removed and is being permanently hand reared. Two eggs still to hatch. Five chick fatalities and one infertile egg out of a total of 42 eggs. Nine boxes have 3 chicks, two boxes have 2 and two boxes have 1.
Friday 15th July
Just got back from a few days in Devon. Both eggs in nb3 south have hatched. I suspect looking at the size of the chicks, one hatched on 13th the other 14th. Unfortunately one chick was out of the nest when we got home. I managed to put it straight back into the nest even though the sitting bird was reluctant to move, hopefully it’ll be OK. Haven’t had time to really check all the other boxes yet.
The number of chicks in my boxes now is 35. One chick has been removed and is being permanently hand reared. Five chick fatalities and one infertile egg out of a total of 42 eggs. Nine boxes have 3 chicks, three boxes have 2 and two boxes have 1.
Monday 11th July
Yesterday was a great day all round. We had over 130 visitors and great swift action too. The swifts put on a super show. There was lots of screaming above our heads, adults entering and leaving boxes, prospectors banging on boxes and plenty of close up action on our live nest box cameras. Plus the garden didn’t look too bad either! So many enthusiastic people wanting to help swifts and wildlife in their own gardens. Our thanks go to our friends John, Julien & Gill from Stroud Swift Group for helping us. Without them I don’t think we would have coped. Here are a few of Julien’s photos taken yesterday.
We raised almost a £1000 for NGS charities and would like to thank everyone that came, some travelling long distances for supporting us on a really hot day. The day just whizzed by. We managed to chat to most people, although not as much as we would have liked too. Still we’re not complaining it was much better than the previous years when it rained all day!
Sunday 10th July
Something very strange has just happened. I’ve just checked my cameras to make sure everything is OK in my boxes and low and behold the missing adult in nb5 north is back! It’s been missing since 4th July. I thought it had been predated by our resident sparrowhawk, but obviously not. Where it has been for the last week is a mystery. Perhaps some adults during the breeding season sleep on the wing rather than in the box at night. If they do its a new one on me. Still whatever the reason for its absence I’m relieved to see it back home again. Perhaps there’s hope that the other missing adults might return as well or just maybe it’s a new partner?
Up early this morning to do the final touches around the garden for our open day. It’s already sunny and warm at 6am and it’s meant to get really hot by this afternoon, so let’s hope not too hot! As I’m pottering around the swifts are flying around the house in some numbers. I think they are a mixture of prospectors and resident birds. Fingers crossed they’ll still be performing when we open at 11am this morning.
We need to move all the pots for sale from the back garden to the front, price them and a final tidy up. Garden not looking too bad even early in the morning. If you’ve read this blog and are visiting please come and say hello. Really hoping that there will be swifts flying about this year.
This warm weather has really made a difference in the number of feeds the chicks are getting. Yesterday in between getting the garden ready for Sunday I counted the number of visits to each box. Over the course of one hour all the boxes had at least two visits each, with one box getting 4 and another 5. Normally I only see them returning once every hour or so. That’s a huge increase in feeds and explains why all the chicks are growing so fast, including the 4 chicks being looked after by single adult.
Last night there must have been 40 plus swifts screaming and circling just above the house. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many birds together. The noise was quite deafening, unfortunately all this commotion didn’t go unnoticed. Sitting on the next door neighbours roof was a male sparrowhawk. No doubt it was attracted to all this activity. I expect it will be back everyday until the swifts leave in a few weeks time. The first chicks to fledge are due to go in the next couple of weeks.
Friday 8th July
Yesterday I had to move one of the hand fed chicks into another box. I thought I had matched up the size difference pretty well. However it became obvious that the original chick in nb5 south was much larger than the two hand fed chicks. So I removed it and swapped it with the third hand reared chick in the box above nb4 south. That is a much better size fit as all six chicks are much closer in size now in both boxes.
I’m also feeling quite chuffed that I put the hand fed back chicks earlier than planned as yesterday was flying ant day here. We saw thousands of flying ants rising up from their nests in our garden and the surrounding area. Every year about now this happens – here’s a video we took a few years ago. The swifts had an absolutely field day, as did the countless gulls feasting on all of this aerial plankton. How the ants know when to coordinate their mass ascent is a mystery to me, but they all went at exactly the same time. The sky was absolutely full of them. Yesterday afternoon every chick in all my boxes were very well fed indeed.
Thursday 7th July
Yesterday was the first time it was warm all day. High pressure is building and the forecast looks good so I decided to put all three chicks back into boxes slightly earlier than planned. To recap I’ve been temporarily hard feeding three chicks for the last week. It’s remarkable how much weight they put on in such a short time. These were their weights just before I placed them back into their boxes 33g (10g), 34g (15g) and 34g (19g)
However I couldn’t put them all back into their original boxes as one of those boxes nb5 north, now has only one adult in it. The other two boxes to receive these chicks were nb4 and nb5 south. Luckily there was a solution as nb2 north only has 2 chicks in it. Before I put the 3 chicks back I removed the largest chick (42g) from nb5 south and moved it in with the two chicks (44g) in nb2 north. It was a pretty good match in both size and age and difficult to tell them apart. Then I put two hand-reared chicks (34g) in with the single chick in nb5 south (37g). The existing chick is slightly larger, but not massively so.
The smallest hand-reared chick (33g) I put into nb4 south along with the two chicks (36g) in there. Again the existing chicks are slightly larger but not that much bigger.
I was hoping to replace all three hand fed chicks back into their original boxes but circumstances made that impossible. However I wasn’t overly concerned that I couldn’t do that. Swifts are such good foster parents and will adopt any new chick immediately. The key I think is wherever possible try and match up the size of the chicks as close as you can. The adults will then do the rest in sharing out the feeds evenly.
The number of chicks in my boxes now is 33. One chick has been removed is now being permanently hand reared. Two eggs still to hatch. Five chick fatalities and one infertile egg out of a total of 42 eggs. Nine boxes have 3 chicks, two boxes have 2 and two boxes have 1.
Wednesday 6th July
Yesterday we had the first reasonably warm afternoon for some time. The warmth generated quite a bit of swift activity which was lovely to watch. It also meant lots more insects around which our birds desperately need, especially the three single adults in nb1 & 5 north and nb12 west. At the moment I’ve left the two chicks with the single adult in nb5 north. Not out of choice but because I have no spare boxes to foster one into. If I see one falling behind the other in size I’ll have to remove it and hand rear. I’m watching and hoping the parent might be able to manage on its own. Apart from that no other dramas which was a relief!
I had a swift back in nb11 west last night. I’m pretty sure its the same bird that deserted that box and its chicks back on 26th June. Perhaps it’s trying to attract a new mate in readiness for next year.
The three chicks being temporarily hand fed continue their excellent progress. They now weigh 31g (10g), 33g (15g) and 33g (19g). They seem to be putting on about 3g a day. I’ve got enough food for another two or three days which should work out about right before I put them back.
Tuesday 5th July
Yesterday was another topsy turvy day at Swift House. The second egg hatched in nb3 west. That increased the number of chicks to 35. However during the day I found a dead chick under nb1 north. That is one of the boxes with only a single adult looking after the chicks. It seems to me that its asking too much for one adult to bring up two chicks on its own. With that in mind I decided not to risk the fate of the second chick in the other box with only one adult. So yesterday evening I removed the larger of the two chicks from nb12 west and put it in nb5 west, along with two chicks the same age but slightly bigger. Statistically three chicks stand a 66% chance of a feed with two adults against only 50% if I left it where it was. Hopefully two adults feeding three chicks will give the foster chick a better chance, plus it also means the single chick from now on will receive all the available feeds from its single parent.
Whilst checking my cameras late last night I saw that only one adult returned to nb5 north. That has two chicks in it, plus I’m also temporarily hand feeding the third with a view to replace it later this week. If it has been lost to a predator I have another potential fostering problem to resolve. I’ve never had so many adults go missing before. I suppose it’s the consequence of having such a large colony. They become more conspicuous to the local birds of prey and that appears to be the case here.
The three chicks being temporarily hand fed continue their excellent progress. They now weigh 28g (10g), 30g (15g) and 30g (19g).
The number of chicks in the colony remains at 34 (out of 42 eggs). Two eggs still to hatch. Five chick fatalities. 1 infertile egg. Four chicks fostered into new boxes. One chick now being permanently hand reared.
Monday 4th July
A much better day weather-wise yesterday, less windy and warmer. The improvement in conditions brought back the prospectors who put on a good show last night. Hopefully this will now carry on as the week progresses and the high pressure builds in. Fingers crossed that is looking good for our open day next Sunday.
Yesterday the first egg in nb3 west hatched. It seems such a long time ago that most of the others did, but its good to have another chick in the colony. I expect the second egg will hatch today. That increases the number of chicks to 34 in the colony (out of 42 eggs). Three eggs still to hatch. Four chick fatalities. 1 infertile egg. Three chicks fostered into new boxes. One chick now being permanently hand reared.
Three chicks being temporarily hand fed continue their excellent progress of rehabilitation. They now weigh 25g (10g), 27g (15g) and 26g (19g).
The two single parents also are doing a really good job. Both pairs of chicks seem to be doing OK despite only one adult bringing back food and are being fed regularly.
I had several emails yesterday regarding the question I asked on the swift forums about how many chicks can a single parent bring up. The encouraging news is they should be able to raise two chicks just as long as the weather remains fair. So based on this information I decided to remove one chick from nb1 north, the largest one weighing 35g. I’ve left the other two chicks behind as they were closer in size to each other, weighing 27g and 32g and less likely to dominate over feeds than the bigger one. Unfortunately I have no suitable nest box to foster the chick into as it’s just too big. It will have to be hand fed now until it fledges. Luckily our good friend Tom is experienced in caring for swift chicks and was keen to look after it.
In the other box with one parent namely nb12 west I haven’t weighed the two chicks but they look around 30g each. From now on I will keep a special watch on both these boxes just to be on the safe side.
The three chicks I’m hand-feeding continue to put on weight and now weigh 21g(10g), 24g (15g) and 23g (19g). If they continue at this rate I should be able to place them back into their original nest boxes by next weekend.
Saturday 2nd July
The little chick from nb5 west sadly died shortly after I removed it yesterday. It was just too weak to survive despite my best efforts to save it. What has surprised me is how quickly they go. One moment they seem OK the next they’re on their way out. When they are this small the window of opportunity to help is very limited indeed. You’ve almost got to act before they show any signs of struggling. So last night I removed the smallest chick from nb5 north. It weighed 19g and was just beginning to fall behind its siblings. I’ve placed it with the two chicks I’m temporarily hand feeding. My aim is to get their weight up and put them back into their respective boxes by next weekend, just as the weather starts to improve and insects become more abundant again. I’ve just weighed them this morning and all three are putting on weight – they now weigh 19g (10g), 22g (15g) and 20g (19g). In brackets is their weight when I first weighed them. Here is a video of the first two chicks being fed. They are doing really well.
With the loss of the little chick yesterday morning their numbers have fallen to 33 (out of 42 eggs). Four chick fatalities. Four eggs still to hatch. One infertile egg and three chicks being temporarily hand-fed.
Another adult has gone missing. This time from nb12 west. That box has two chicks in it aged just under 3 weeks old. Not sure why three adults have gone missing recently, but I regularly see a sparrowhawk fly over on a daily basis. It could be that or maybe the poor weather. In the past when I’ve lost an adult I’ve left one chick with a single parent and fostered the rest into other boxes with chicks of a similar size. I know from experience a single adult can easily raise one chick. What I don’t know is if can they raise two or three. I’ve posted this question on a couple of swift forums, to help me decide what action to take. With so many boxes with three chicks I’ve got no spare capacity to foster chicks into an alternative boxes like in previous years. Any I remove now will have to be hand-reared.
Friday 1st July
The cool unsettled conditions are having more of an deadly impact each day. I was far too optimistic in my assessment of the little chick in nb12 west. I thought it was doing OK, but this morning I found it had died overnight. Also the smallest chick in nb5 west is really struggling. It’s been pushed outside the nest this morning and looking very sad indeed. I’ll remove it as soon as the adults go out. Another box causing me concern is nb1 north. Last night only one adult returned as far as I could tell. That box has three chicks in there about 3 weeks old. If the adult doesn’t soon I’ll have to remove two of them and hand rear them. Unfortunately I’ve got no boxes to foster them into as they’re too big. In the last 10 days we’ve lost 3 chicks, had to foster 3, temporarily looking after another 3 and may have to hand-rear another two. Losing the chick overnight reduces the number of chicks to 34 (out of 42 eggs). Three chick fatalities and one infertile egg. It’s been a bad couple of weeks!
Some good news to report. The two little chicks I’m hand feeding are doing really well. They weighed 10g and 12g when I rescued them a couple of days ago. This morning they weighed 14g and 17g respectively.
9am. Just removed the third chick from nb5 west. It’s very cold and hardly moving. It weighed only 17g compared to 40g its other two siblings. I’ve given it some fluid and a small amount of food. Not sure if it will make it though as very, very weak.
Thursday 30th June
These cool, unsettled conditions are starting to have a detrimental impact on some of the smaller chicks in the colony. Yesterday I had to remove another struggling chick, this time from nb5 south. It was tiny compared to its siblings weighing in at only 12g. The other two weighed over 38g each. I watched it for a while and it just wasn’t strong enough to compete for feeds against them. I will hand rear it for a while with a view to return it to the original box when strong enough. I put it alongside the chick from nb4 south for company and warmth and both seem to be doing OK this morning. The problem isn’t so much broods of three as the size difference in each brood. If all the eggs hatched roughly the same time there isn’t much of a size difference between the chicks. They’re all getting their fair share of feeds. However in the broods where the last egg hatched two, sometimes three days after the first egg those are the ones who are really struggling. Looking at all my boxes there’s only one other nest causing me some concern. That’s nb12 west. The third egg in that brood hatched 3 days after the first, but it seems to be doing OK. Its parents are really good at bringing back food so although its smaller than its siblings its not massively so. However I’ll keep a eye on it just in case. It looks like we’ve got a couple more unsettled days before the high pressure builds in and conditions improve. That should make finding insects much easier for the adults. The LH photo is the tiny chick being weighed. The RH photo are its siblings left together in the box.
On a happier note the prospectors have returned this morning and are screaming around the house. They’ve been missing since last Friday, so its lovely to see them back again.
Wednesday 29th June
Yesterday morning I found another chick struggling, this time in nb4 south. It weighed only 10g compared to 31g for its other two siblings. Luckily I removed it just in time. I will hand rear for a few days with a view to return it to the original box when strong enough.
I’ve already lost two chicks and this is the third one struggling so far. Those that have been most affected are the ones that hatched a couple of days after the other two. In my other boxes where all 3 eggs hatched together there doesn’t seem to be a problem and all the chicks look roughly the same size. However that could all change quickly if the weather takes a turn for the worse. The good news is it’s meant to warm up towards the weekend, so until then I’ll keep a close eye on all my boxes just in case I need to act again. The LH photo shows the little chick being weighed. The RH photo the size of the other two siblings in comparison.
I was wondering why the remaining adult in nb11 west abandoned its chicks on Saturday. As soon as it realised its partner was missing it just upped and left with no regard to its offspring at all. I just can’t help thinking it must have been a male bird. Although I have no way of knowing I just have a gut feeling that if it was the female left on her own she would have endeavoured to carry on. I’ve had single parents bring up chicks on their own in the past without any problems. So perhaps it is a gender issue. Females generally in the animal kingdom do seem to have a much stronger maternal bond with their offspring than the males do. Perhaps someone will be able study this in future and will find out.
Surprisingly late last night the adult returned. Perhaps in the coming weeks it will try to find a new mate before they all leave.
Tuesday 28th June
Whilst checking the cameras last night I noticed the smallest chick from nb2 north was missing. It hatched a couple of days after its other two siblings and was considerably smaller than them. Unfortunately the camera picture in that box is very poor and I didn’t notice it was struggling otherwise I would have intervened. It must have died a couple of days ago and has been removed by the adults. That reduces the number of chicks to 35 with 4 eggs still to hatch. Two chick fatalities and one infertile egg.
On a cheerier note we visited our teacher friend Tom (sorry kids Mr Carter!) at Olveston School yesterday afternoon. We spent a lovely couple of hours in the sunshine watching swifts flying around the old school house. It was built back in 1836 and we suspect swifts have been nesting there ever since. The remarkable thing about this colony is how low they nest. Tom reckons there are at least a dozen pairs under the eaves barely 12 feet off the ground. To get into their nests they have to swoop down to just a couple of feet off the ground. To have swifts flying that close to you is an experience hard to put into words. Magical is the closest word to describe it. Tom has built another dozen boxes and fitted them to the gable end to help increase their numbers even more. We feel another visit will soon be on the cards!
Monday 27th June
Yesterday the weather turned out better than forecast which meant the adults were out all day collecting insects. Great news for our three foster chicks who all got several feeds. The LH photo is nb3 north. The foster chick is slightly smaller than the other two, it’s the one in the middle. The middle photo is nb6 north. I can’t tell which is the foster chick as they all look the same. The RH photo is nb6 west. Again difficult to tell the foster chick apart as all the same size. More good news is that high pressure is due to build in towards the end of the week which will make finding insects easier for our adults birds.
Sunday 26th June
Yesterday was all about nb11 west. I had noticed on Friday night one adult missing, so first thing on Saturday I started watching that box. The remaining adult left just after 6.30am. Whilst it was out at 8.30 am I weighed all three chicks. The smallest 20g, the next 30g and the biggest weighed 31g. Their ages ranged from 9 to 11 days. Their eyes were still closed, although the first fluffy down feathers were just coming through. I decided to remove the two largest chicks and leave the smallest behind for the single parent to feed. I put the two chicks into an old shoebox and brought them into the warm conservatory. My plan was to feed them for a few hours before fostering them into other boxes. Luckily I still had some wax worms and crickets left over from the other day. Within minutes they were taking food from my hand. They were starving. All the time I was constantly monitoring nb11 west hoping to see the single parent return and feed the remaining chick.
Alas by 1pm it had not returned once. It had abandoned the box. Shortly after I removed the remaining chick. It was very cold and hungry but soon perked up in the warm house. I fed them well for the next few hours. Remarkably by the time I fostered them later that day they had all put on weight. They now weighed 24g, 33g and 34g respectively. I placed the largest chick into nb6 west. That box had two chicks in it weighing around 38g. The next largest went into nb3 north that also had two chicks in, weighing around 34g. The smallest chick went into nb6 north that had two chicks in weighing around 27g each. For the rest of the evening I watched all 3 boxes and saw the adults returning numerous times and all the chicks getting fed. Although it means extra work for those 6 adults as long as the weather remains fair the chicks should be OK. However I have no spare capacity in any of my boxes to foster anymore chicks if another situation should arise. Fingers crossed I won’t have to cross that bridge.
One final thing happened. At 10pm the single adult returned to nb11 west. It had no food bolus for its chicks. It just came in looked around and went out again. Watching it confirmed I had made the right decision earlier in the day.
Saturday 25th June
Yesterdays weather was a lot fresher which stopped any further honeybee incursions which was really welcome. Unfortunately it also meant there was very little swift activity as well. Prospectors like it warm and calm to perform and when its cool and breezy they go somewhere else. Looking at the weather forecast I don’t think I’m going to see them again for a while.
One unexpected welcome guest did return though. Whilst we we having tea on the patio Mrs Wrekin appeared. We haven’t seen her for a couple of years, but there she was back again. We keep a dish of live mealworms under the table to help the Robins and she was helping herself to a beak full. Jane managed to film this short video of her. She has a family of fledglings to feed somewhere in our garden hedge. We haven’t seen them yet, but we can hear them calling for food.
For those of you who follow my blog you’ll know that we are trying to turn the lawn into a more wildlife friendly space. In the spring of 2021 we planted lots of different wildflowers in the hope of turning it into a flowering lawn. Well it’s slowly getting there. At the moment it is mainly white clover, daisies and self heal with a few birds foot trefoil dotted here and there, but it’s starting to look good. We didn’t mow during May and have left patches uncut in a hope to attract butterflies to lay their eggs in the long grass. Below are a few photos of how it looks now. Pride of place is the common spotted orchid grown by our good friend Geoffrey.
Friday 24th June
Yesterday a second egg was laid in nb3 south. The photo below is just as they changed over incubating duties. One of the birds (I suspect it was the male) was a little heavy clawed and flicked the egg nearest the bottom of the picture. Luckily all my nest cups have rope rings around them so it saved that egg from being knocked completely out. I don’t think they lay a third egg, as they’ve gone straight into incubating mode. That takes the number of eggs this year to 42, a new Swift House record. The colony now has 15 pairs either with chicks or eggs, one non-breeding pair and one singleton.
Last night around 8.30pm a few scout honeybees returned. They started to enter several boxes but were soon ejected by rapid wings flaps from the adults inside. Another bit of interesting behaviour I observed was several other adults who were outside and witnessed what was going on came back in and blocked the entrance to stop any bees from entering. Luckily the weather is meant to turn fresher with possible heavy showers for the next few days, so hopefully that will stop any imminent swarms for happening.
Thursday 23rd June
Another fantastic day weather-wise with plenty of swift activity, enough to turn anyones head skywards. I managed to film this video of the prospectors around our house yesterday evening. At the moment only one has ventured into my boxes, however it can’t make up its mind which one it prefers yet. Its hopping behind nb7 and nb9 west, although I have a feeling it likes nb7 west best. Hopefully once it has made its mind up it will try to attract a mate to follow it back in. Photo shows it back in nb7 west this morning.
Working out exactly how many chicks are in a nest can sometimes be very difficult especially if the camera is at the other end of the box. That was the case in nb6 west. I was sure there were 3 chicks in that box, but yesterday I spotted an egg by the side of the nest. As the other two eggs hatched back on 14th June I suspect the third egg was infertile and was removed by the adult yesterday. That reduces the number of chicks to 36 (out of 41 eggs). One chick fatality and now one infertile egg. Hopefully the new pair in nb3 south will lay another egg today.
Wednesday 22nd June
Yesterday the pair in nb3 south laid their first egg. They’re a brand new pair this year. The first bird arrived on 5th June and its mate on 10th June. So if you’ve had pairs that have only just arrived in the last couple of weeks there’s a good chance they might breed this year. They are my 15th pair to lay. The only pair without eggs are in nb3 north. However I’m beginning to think the female in that box might be barren. They’ve been together for over a month now and they normally lay about 10 days after they pair up. The new egg in nb3 south takes the total number of eggs to 41. At the moment we have 37 chicks in 13 boxes. One pair sat on 2 eggs in nb3 west. Another pair just beginning in nb3 south to lay. The barren pair in nb3 north and a singleton in nb7 west.
Without doubt the prospectors are back and in some numbers. It’s always difficult to tell exactly how many there are as they mingle in with the resident birds, but I reckon somewhere between 8-12. They only arrived two days ago and one has started to roost in nb7 west. Maybe it will try and entice a mate to join it in the next few days. I’ll try and film some of their action for a future blog.
Tuesday 21st June
Yesterday all 3 eggs in nb5 north hatched together which was a bit unusual as they’re normally staggered. However I am particularly chuffed with that outcome. If you remember back to my blog on 30th May I found one egg had been knocked out of that nest. I had no idea of how long it was out but I suspected it was at least several hours if not longer. I popped it back in as soon as I could and crossed my fingers. Well it must have been OK because its just hatched. That’s another amazing fact about swifts. Their eggs remain viable for hours if left uncovered unlike most other songbirds who’s egg would perish within minutes. The photo below shows one of the adults feeding one chick with the other two right next to it.
Now that most adults are leaving their chicks uncovered I managed to get a really good look into two boxes where the camera angle is poor. What I found was quite remarkable. In both nb5 and nb11 west there was a third chick. That’s twelve clutches of 3 out of fourteen this year. Almost every pair this year has laid 3 eggs, which is a record for Swift House. Sadly I lost one chick a couple of days ago from nb3 north, but that still leaves 11 boxes with 3 chicks in. Only two pairs, nb3 west and nb6 north laid 2 eggs. Still no sign of eggs in nb4 north. They’ve been back for well over a month now. I’m beginning to think the female might be barren. The only other pair without eggs is in nb3 south. They’ve only been together for 11 days now, so there’s still a chance they might lay. The number of chicks in the colony is now 37 (out of 40 eggs) with thankfully, only one chick fatality so far. Whist I’m delighted that so many of my boxes have three chicks in, it does limit my options to foster any orphans if I get any. I just hope the weather remains good and my intervention is not required.
Last night was the best prospecting activity I’ve seen for a while. From 9pm until dark half a dozen or more birds were actively banging the boxes. Although most of their attention was on the already occupied boxes I did see a couple of swifts enter some of my empty boxes, namely nb7 and 9 west. Perhaps the start of a new pair or two?
Monday 20th June
The third egg has hatched in nb4 south. Judging by the size of the chick I would say it hatched late on Saturday or early Sunday morning. That takes the number of chicks to 32 (out of 38 eggs).
Here is an inspirational swift story we wanted to share. Just before lockdown in March 2020 we visited Mandy and Edward in Kelston, a small village near Bath to talk about swifts. They’re both passionate about swift conservation and wanted to do something to help. They were planning to refurbish an Old School House building within their grounds and wondered if it might be possible to incorporate swift tiles into the roof at the same time. Well we’re pleased to say two years on and they have 10 bespoke swift tiles ready for new swift residents. Since we first visited they’ve managed to attract one pair to a John Stimpson box on the same building. Hopefully in years to come this will help draw in new pairs to their tile boxes. More information and photos about just what can be done are on our Local Swift Projects page.
Sunday 19th June
I was hoping to see more prospectors by now, but there does seem to be a distinct lack of them this year. I’ve noticed this when we were down in Devon last week. In the local towns and villages near us swift numbers were much less than on previous years. Even more worrying was absence of swallows. On the farm where we stay there’s normally about 50 plus at this time of year but I only saw a handful. House martins numbers though appeared to be about normal.
The lack of prospectors has brought some benefits though. I’ve not seen any crataerina pallida, the parasitic swift louse-fly in any of my boxes yet. These blood-sucking parasites normally hitch a ride on the backs of prospectors. When the prospectors land momentarily to investigate potential nest sites they hop off to infest them. This time last year 10 of my boxes had a crataerina infestation. At least the chicks this year won’t be bothered by them which is good news.
Only 6 more eggs to hatch in 3 boxes. One is due today, three in the next day or two and the last two in about a couple of weeks time.
Saturday 18th June
Another two eggs hatched yesterday, the second egg in nb4 south and the third egg in nb2 north. That takes the number of chicks to 32 (out of 38 eggs).
I decided to intervene in nb3 north. As I mentioned in yesterdays blog I was worried about the size difference of the smallest chick. Watching the adults bringing in feeds yesterday I could see that only the two largest chicks were being fed. The little chick was just too small and weak to compete with them. I’ve seen this before and its surprising how quickly a chick will die if not being fed. So before it got past the point of no return I removed it whilst the adults were out. It only weighed 5g – see RH photo. In the LH photo you can see the smallest chick in-between the other two who are twice the size. The middle photo is both adults who returned shortly afterwards. I’ll feed the chick for a few days to build up its strength and size. In about a weeks time it should hopefully be big enough to put back in the box. There is a school of thought amongst some that you shouldn’t intervene and should let nature run its natural course. I don’t subscribe to that point of view. All my birds are precious to me and I will do whatever I can to help them.
4pm. Sad news. I thought I had acted quick enough yesterday to make a difference, but alas the little chick just wasn’t strong enough. Shortly after 3pm this afternoon it passed away. Maybe there was something wrong with it in the first place. Perhaps that was the real reason it was so small compared to its siblings? It was still worth trying to save it though.
Friday 17th June
Another 5 eggs hatched yesterday. Two in nb6 north, the first in nb4 south, the third in nb5 south and nb12 west. That takes the number of chicks to 30 (out of 37).
The fine weather has meant an abundance of insects. This is great news for the newly hatched chicks as it means all of them are getting a feed during the day. However despite this bonanza I’m keeping a very close eye on all the boxes with three chicks in, just to make sure they all look OK. The only box where there is a noticeable size difference between the chicks is in nb3 north. In that box the third egg hatched a couple of days after the other two and the chick is very small compared to its siblings. Hopefully it will catch up in the next day or two if the weather remains fair. Saturday looks a bit iffy, but after that it settles back down again.
Whilst we might enjoy these hot conditions here in the UK its effect on swift chicks in Spain has been a disaster. The extreme heat has resulted in hundreds of fatalities as reported in the Guardian yesterday. I fear the same outcome may have occurred in France as well as the hot weather moved north towards us. Hopefully it shouldn’t cause us too many problems in the UK, but its another sign of how catastrophic climate change can be on the natural world.
Thursday 16th June
It took me most of the day yesterday to catch up, but I got there in the end. Here’s a brief summary of what happened.
We went away early Sunday morning and returned home late Tuesday night. In the 3 days we were away 14 eggs hatched. The new pair in nb3 west laid two eggs – photo below. Not sure yet if that’s the end of their clutch or another egg still to come.
In another two of my boxes which I thought had only had two eggs each, in fact had both laid clutches of three. That’s 8 out of 14 pairs this year with clutches of three, a new record for the colony. Between them they’ve laid an astonishing 38 eggs. Still two pairs without eggs. The pair in nb4 north and a new pair in nb3 south. I think the pair on the south side might have a go at laying. They’ve been together since 10th June. Pairs normally lay about 10 days after getting together, so I should find out in the next week if they are going too. However I’m not so sure about the other pair in nb4 north. They’ve been together for over 3 weeks and produced nothing yet. Whilst I’m delighted to see so many large clutches I am also a little worried. To raise 3 chicks the weather needs to be really good all summer. If we get a week or two of poor weather then problems can arise concerning the third chick which tends to be the smallest.
Lots of prospecting activity since we’ve been back but no new residents yet. Still plenty of time though.
Wednesday 15th June
Despite a dozen or more newcomers screaming around the house last night none went onto roost overnight in my boxes. The colony numbers remain the same as just before we went away at 32 birds. That’s 13 pairs with either eggs or chicks and 3 pairs still to lay. As the day progresses I should get a good look into each nest. I’ll update the blog accordingly.
1pm. Two eggs in nb3 west. That’s a new pair that’s only been together since 5th June. One egg was laid this morning and the other must have been on Monday.
Two chicks in nb5 south plus a third egg. Looking at the size of the chicks I would say one hatched on Monday and the other yesterday. That’s the eighth clutch of 3 this year, another new record for the colony. That takes the number of eggs to 36 this year, 19 of which have hatched.
Definitely chicks in another three boxes, but unable to tell how many at the moment. As the temperature rises this afternoon they should begin to leave them uncovered. Hopefully long enough for me to have a good look in each box.
8pm. Two eggs in nb12 west have hatched. Looking at the size I would say one on Monday and the second this morning. Again there’s a third egg in the nest. That’s the ninth clutch this year. Records on clutch size being broken every few hours! That takes the egg total to 38 this year – 21 of which have hatched.
10pm. I finally got a good look in the last two nest boxes. Both eggs in nb5 west and two in nb2 north have hatched. Looking at the size of all 4 chicks I reckon they must have hatched whilst we were away. That takes the number of chicks to 25.
Tuesday 14th June
9pm. Just got back from a few days away in Devon. When we first arrived home we were greeted by lots of screaming activity around the house. At least a dozen screamers whizzing around. Difficult to say what’s going on until they settle down and I can check who’s back in the boxes. First glance at the cameras suggest at least another 8 eggs may have hatched since Sunday. I’ve only managed to confirm six at the moment. The 2nd and 3rd eggs in both nb1 west and nb3 north and two in nb11 west. Not sure about anything else. Tomorrows blog will be updated throughout the day out as I try to catch up. The number of chicks now stands at 17.
Sunday 12th June
Six more eggs hatched yesterday. The first one in nb1 west, two in nb3 north and nb6 west and a third in nb1 north. That takes the total to 11. A third of this years eggs have now hatched.
The riddle of the new bird in nb3 south has been answered. I had thought it might have been the bird from nb4 north who has been missing since the honeybee incursion last Thursday. However yesterday morning it returned to nb4 north. On the opposite side of the house at exactly the same time a new pair get together for the first time in nb3 south. Where the missing bird from nb4 north has been for the last couple of days is a mystery, but it appears it has plucked up enough courage to return. As for the new birds in nb3 south. I did have a non-breeding pair in there last summer. They arrived late, laid a couple of eggs then threw them out. Is this pair the same birds or newcomers? If I had to guess I would say they are the same pair from last year. LH photo is the re-united pair in nb4 north. RH photo is the newly formed pair in nb3 south.
We’re taking a swift break from the blog for a few days, but will be back.
Saturday 11th June
Two more eggs hatched yesterday. The second in nb1 north and the third in nb2 south. I also got a really good look into nb6 west and found a third egg in there. It was probably laid around May 24th. That’s the seventh pair this year with 3 eggs, another new record for the colony. There must have been an abundance of insects, just as egg laying began. This year all 33 eggs were laid fairly close together over a two week period in late May. Last year egg laying was spread over a 6 week period. They’re just beginning to hatch now. The next couple of weeks are going to be extremely busy. Fingers crossed the weather will be kind as the chicks hatch in the next 10 days. So far we have 5 chicks. Below are two newly hatched chicks receiving their first feed.
Last night the singleton in nb1 south went missing at the same time a second bird moved into nb3 south. Is this the same bird who’s just moved boxes?
Still only one bird in nb4 north after the honeybee incursion on Thursday. I’m beginning to think it’s mate has deserted for good.
Friday 10th June
First the bad news. The scout honeybees returned yesterday despite the drizzle. This time they went for a couple of boxes on the front of the house, nb3 & nb4. Luckily there were only a handful of them and I managed to spray some Bee Quick before their numbers grew. However a few did enter both boxes. I think it spooked one of the non-breeding birds in nb4 north as only one returned to roost last night. However last night a new bird appeared in nb1 south for the first time and I’m wondering if it’s the same bird? The sitting bird in nb3 north did a fantastic job and managed to repel the honeybees on its own. We’re just about reaching peak swarming time for honeybees. I fear as the weather warms up over the weekend this won’t be the last I’ll see them.
Now the good news. The first eggs hatched yesterday. The first two in nb2 south and the first one in nb1 north. Swifts don’t start to incubate their eggs properly until their clutch is fully complete which can take anything from 2 – 5 days. Based on that I normally expect the first eggs to hatch around 20 days after the last egg has been laid. Its not an exact science but its close enough. However these eggs hatched around the 18 day mark. That’s a couple of days quicker than normal. I think it must be down to the relatively warm conditions we’ve had for the last few weeks. I’ve had to revise all my hatching dates to match. I also managed to get a good look into nb2 south at the same time and found there was a third egg in there which surprised me. That means 6 out of 13 pairs now have clutches of 3, a new record for our colony. That takes the egg total to 32 in 13 boxes of which 3 have now hatched. The colony numbers are always in a state of flux with birds constantly coming and going. Last night it stood at 31. That’s 13 pairs with eggs, 1 pair yet to lay and 3 singletons.
Thursday 9th June
Carrying on from yesterday’s blog. I wonder if the second wave of birds is a mixture of potential breeders (3 year olds) and non-breeders (1-2 year olds). That might explain why some birds almost immediately find boxes and take up residency whilst others just go through the motions. Just a thought.
I’ve just been contacted by Zoe from Suffolk with some very unusual swift behaviour. Last year she had a pair take up residence for the first time In July. This year they returned in May to the same box. For the purposes of this blog I’ll call it box A. At the end of May they laid 3 eggs in box A. All perfectly normal then something strange happened. The pair upped and moved boxes and abandoned their eggs. They moved to another box on the opposite side of the house – I’ll call that one box B. A few days later they returned to box A and threw out all the eggs, but oddly they carried on roosting overnight in box B. On Monday they laid their first egg in box B. However on Tuesday night they were both back roosting in box A. Yesterday they returned to box B to lay a second egg, only to roost overnight back in Box A again. This morning Zoe has just told me one bird has just returned to box B and has begun incubating. I’ve come across box-hopping by inexperienced first time breeders at my own colony but never on this scale. Normally once the eggs are laid they never move boxes. To flip-flop like this is most unusual. Fingers crossed they’ve worked out what to do.
Wednesday 8th June
Trying to fathom out prospecting behaviour is extremely baffling. There are a group of about 8 newcomers who regularly buzz the house. They’ve been here for about a week now. As far as I can tell two of them entered boxes fairly soon after arriving and have now begun roosting overnight in nb7 west and nb3 south. As for the others in the group their behaviour is more puzzling. I have 7 empty boxes dotted around the eaves. One on the north, two on the south and four on the west. Plenty of spare accommodation for all of these newcomers yet they spend all of their time landing on the occupied corners boxes. I can understand them doing it once or twice as they try to work out which boxes are occupied or not. But to carry on doing it baffles me. It’s almost as if they do it out of sheer devilment. Their constant harassment must drive the resident birds crazy inside. I watched them doing this for a good hour last night just before it got dark. Continually flying up to the same corner boxes. I could see the heads of the resident birds in each entrance hole blocking access. One, two, sometimes three newcomers in quick succession would fly up to and land on these boxes. Then what followed can only be described as a Mexican stand-off. The heads of resident bird and the newcomer almost touching in the entrance hole as the box owner screamed at the top of its voice. The noise was almost deafening. If I had to compare them to us I would call them unruly teenagers with nothing better to do!
Tuesday 7th June
The next two or three weeks are when the swift season really comes to life. It’s all down to the arrival of the second wave. These birds aren’t burdened by the rigours of raising their brood, they’re more interested in finding a nest box. This involves high speed chases around our homes and buildings, banging on boxes and generally making a lot of noise. This process can take several weeks and is entirely weather dependent. Once a suitable nest box has been located the next part of the process is to entice a mate. This involves flying up to the nest site with the potential partner in tow. The lead bird emits a soft piping call which swift enthusiasts have named the ‘follow-the leader’ call. The lead bird is pointing out the exact location of the entrance hole. It is hoping its potential partner will follow it back inside. More often than not though the following bird veers away at the last moment leaving the lead bird all alone inside the box. Realising this out it comes to repeat the whole process once again. This can go on for weeks, but normally within a couple of days the pair have taken taken up residency. This is now their home which they will use it for the rest of their lives. Swifts are extremely site faithful and the nest box will now be defended against all intruders, sometimes even to the death. Luckily this rarely happens with most intruders being ejected after a brief fight. If these newcomers can locate a nest box quickly there’s always a chance they might even breed this year. The next few weeks are crucial in the life and future well-being of the colony.
Monday 6th June
Yesterday was another gloomy day, but at least there was a bit more activity to keep me interested in the morning.
The pair in nb4 north have laid a soft egg and removed it from the nest. It looks slightly off-colour. Its shell is soft and leathery similar to that of a lizards egg. This is down to a lack of calcium in her diet. Hopefully it’s a one-off and she’ll lay some viable eggs soon. In the LH photo the egg is roughly in the middle of the at around the 3 o’clock position.
In the blog a couple of days ago I said that the boxes on the south side were being targeted by the newcomers. Yesterday one bird made it inside of nb3 south. Fingers crossed it will attract a new mate soon. See middle photo.
The single bird in nb3 west has now been joined by another bird. Not sure if its the old mate from last year or one of the newcomers that have been here since last week. My guess it’s probably one of the newcomers. Any luck they’ll have a go at breeding again this year. See RH photo.
The single bird in nb7 west failed to return last night, probably because of the awful weather. Hopefully it will return when it brightens up.
With these new arrivals the colony has risen to 31 – we now have 15 pairs and 1 singleton.
Sunday 5th June
Yesterday was the complete opposite to Friday’s wonderful action. A wet morning with a brisk easterly wind kept most of the birds inside. The afternoon improved slightly with the sun trying to come out, but the swift action never really got going. The weather can be so fickle in June. Flip-flopping between absolutely glorious and downright awful. Swifts need calm warmish conditions to be really active. Goodness knows what they think of our weather, but I find it really frustrating. Nothing much to report really, so here’s a very short video of the first bangers of the season filmed on Friday.
Saturday 4th June
Yesterday was by far the best day so far this year for swift activity. Between 6-8 newcomers were buzzing the house all day long. By sheer good luck we’d arranged for some swift friends to pop in to visit us in the morning. Sarah and her family visited us a few years ago and have kept in touch ever since. The family even posted us some thistle-down from their farm, to line swift nests which was really nice. Yesterday Sarah and daughter Millie came with Sarah’s Mum Barbara and Dad John to meet us and see the swifts. Luckily the swifts put on a super show. Sometimes things are just meant to be and yesterday morning was one of those special occasions.
Despite all the activity outside I also managed to get a good look into a couple of boxes, nb1 north and nb4 south. I thought both these boxes only had a couple of eggs in each, however to my surprise both had clutches of 3. That’s five pairs now that have clutches of 3 eggs. That’s equalled the record set last year. The egg total has now risen to 31 in 13 boxes. Only the pair in nb4 north are still without eggs.
The banging activity increased until just after 9pm with swifts landing on numerous boxes. When all the commotion eventually died down one new bird had taken up resident in nb7 west. This box had a pair of first time breeders in it last year. so perhaps one of them has just returned home? Another box that received an awful lot of attention was nb3 south. Maybe that one will be investigated in the next couple of days. With the new arrival the colony has grown to 30. LH photo – the pair in nb4 north finally get together! Middle photo – new arrival in nb3 west on Monday. RH photo – new arrival yesterday in nb7 west.
Friday 3rd June
Yesterday turned out to be a pretty good swift day. It wasn’t spectacular but there was enough activity to keep me watching for most of the morning. It quietened down a bit in the afternoon, but picked up again during the evening. It always exciting to watch and listen to the antics of these new birds. I reckon there are about 6-8 newcomers in this second wave, but it’s really hard to be sure. Within the group there are smaller sub-groups and it’s interesting to watch the different behaviour within each. One of the birds is definitely from last year. It is residing in nb3 west, the same box as it used last year. It does join the others when they first begin whizzing around the house, but soon returns to its box to guard the entrance. I haven’t seen it trying to entice any of the others in either. I suspect it’s still waiting for its old mate to return. The others in the group show a different sort of behaviour. They tend to hang around in smaller groups consisting of 3 or 4. They like to follow the resident birds back to their boxes before turning away at the last second. I think this is how they work out which boxes are occupied or not. They are still in the first phase of working out where all the resident birds live at the moment. Once they’ve done that they start the second phase. That’s what we call banging, flying up to and hitting the boxes with their wings. However one group of 3 do seem very interested in the boxes on the south side. They fly horizontally in front of these boxes, screaming as they go past. Only the middle box of three is occupied. As they fly past screaming the sitting bird in that box calls back. If I’m right in a few days time their behaviour will change and they might start landing momentarily and peeping inside the vacant boxes.
Thursday 2nd June
At least 8 newcomers whizzing around the house this morning. Looks like it could be a good swift day!
Alas a sad ending to yesterdays blog. The bird who replaced the egg back in the nest after incubating it all day inadvertently knocked it out the nest again. This time however it didn’t attempt to put it back in, but threw it out of the box along with the other displaced egg. Hopefully they’ll have another go at a second clutch in a few days time. Such a pity.
Stuart Mcfadzean who is involved with lots of swift projects in Devon sent me this photo of this wonderful 24 box cabinet made by John and Alexandra for a church in Payhembury. It was installed behind the louvres on 20th May along with a sound system. Amazingly only a few days later on 26th May there was a sighting of a swift around the tower. Then on 28th May Stuart visited and heard a bird calling from inside the tower whilst another was whizzing around outside. As he watched the bird inside conveniently flew out to join its mate. Remarkable that a swift has moved in so quickly. There is an existing swift colony in Payhembury, which is about 100m away but only a couple of pairs. After that the next colony is a good couple of miles away in Feniton church boxes. It just shows that swifts seem to find church boxes very quickly, especially if there are a few birds nesting locally. To misuse a quote from the film Field of Dreams “build it and they will come”. It seems to be the case for boxes in churches like these.
Wednesday 1st June
The good news is the pair in nb5 north have not kicked out their eggs again and have started to incubate them. Fingers crossed they’ll both be OK considering they spent quite a few hours outside the nest on the floor.
More good news. A group of 8 swifts screaming around the house this morning. I think the second wave is well and truly back and in some numbers!
A couple of days ago Duncan Painter from Trumpington Swifts sent me some quite remarkable video footage. It was taken inside one of his boxes and shows a swift deliberately replacing a displaced egg back into the nest. Two short videos he sent were taken just a few minutes apart on 30th May.
The first video shows a swift (we think it probably is the female) sitting on the nest with two eggs just outside on the floor either side of her head. The first egg was knocked out of the nest on 29th May and the second on the morning of 30th May. This is only her second year at breeding, so that might explain why both eggs were displaced.
In the second video she picks up one egg and spins around in a frenzied manner several times before dropping it onto the edge of the nest. Duncan told me that she tried to sit on it several times before eventually picking it up for a second time. This time she managed to drop it into the middle of nest. Once it was safely back into position she then began to incubate it. What an extraordinary example of rarely seen swift behaviour. I had heard reports of swifts attempting to replace dislodged eggs, but never actually seen anything like this before. Unfortunately she hasn’t attempted to do the same with the other egg. That one I’m afraid is lost. However there is a possibility she might lay at third. Thank you Duncan for sharing such brilliant videos.