Swift

Irish Name: Gabhlán gaoithe
Scientific name: Apus apus
Bird Family: Swift
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Conservation status

Status

Common summer visitor throughout Ireland from May to early September.

Identification

About the same size as a Swallow, but all dark. Spends virtually all of its life airborne and never seen resting on wires, as Swallows and Martins frequently do. The weak and small feet of a Swift only allow it to cling to vertical surfaces or shuffle akwardly on the ground (at the nest). In flight, has a distinctive shape with scythe shaped wings held straight out from the body. One of the fastest flying birds in Ireland.

Voice

Most frequently heard is a high-pitched scream "srrrriii". Often given by pairs in high speed chases.

Diet

Feeds exclusively on various invertebrates (midges, flies, spiders) caught in flight

Breeding

Breeds throughout Ireland, usually in small recesses in buildings, both occupied and derelict. Less frequently in holes in trees or caves in uplands or coastal areas.

Wintering

Winters in tropical Africa. Migrants arrive from the end of April onwards and most will have departed by mid-August. A few individuals can usually be seen up until the start of September.

Monitored by

Countryside Bird Survey.

Blog posts about this bird

Migration

County Swift Surveys for Clare, Dublin, Leitrim and Roscommon

Perhaps the most iconic and intriguing of our urban bird species, Swifts are a small migratory bird that visits Ireland each year to nest. They travel from southern Africa where they have spent over eight months of the year. Swifts have adapted to nesting in cavities where found in buildings in our cities, towns, and villages. Their future is seriously threatened in Ireland due primarily to the loss of existing nesting sites, owed to renovations of older buildings without provisions for Swifts being made and their exclusion from modern buildings due to modern design and materials removing suitable access and nesting crevices typical in older structures. A recently published report puts the rate of decline at almost 60% since 1998. From May to August each year you can encounter Swifts, you will usually hear Swifts before you see them, their distinctive 'screaming' call is uttered on the wing as they fly superbly over rooftops at high speed.

Swift on approach to nest site under roof tile - Photo: Mike Taylor

However, the good news is that there is a lot that can be done to halt the decline of our nesting Swift population, knowing how many Swifts there are and where they nest in our cities, towns and villages is the first step.  The support and active engagement of local communities is critical to building greater awareness of this unique bird species and in undertaking conservation action where it is most needed. This summer, BirdWatch Ireland will conduct County Swift Surveys in counties Clare, Dublin (South Dublin CoCo areas), Leitrim and Roscommon. Although finding, recording, and mapping Swift nesting sites is core to the Clare Swift Survey, BirdWatch Ireland will be making efforts online through social media and by other digital means to get local communities and residents involved by recording and reporting the presence of Swifts in their respective areas.

Recently published Countryside Bird Survey data shows steep decline

in Swift numbers (almost 60%) in less than 20 years

Across Ireland, specialist organisations, Tidy Towns groups, community groups and interested individuals are playing a vital role in Swift conservation by undertaking projects to directly help conserve Swifts in their localities. In previous years, BirdWatch Ireland has already completed Swift Surveys in seven counties (Laois, Offaly, Westmeath, Tipperary, Meath, Wicklow and Sligo) and this summer’s surveys are designed to add to our knowledge and inform our conservation work and strategies going forward. It is hoped that communities and individuals in these counties will follow-up on what is learned through this work by taking direct conservation actions for Swifts in their respective communities in the months and years to come. The County Swift Surveys are funded by the respective local authority Heritage Offices, the National Biodiversity Action Plan Fund and the Heritage Council. To find out more about Swifts and the 2020 County Swift Surveys you can visit BirdWatch Ireland’s Facebook Page and/or YouTube Channel on Friday May 29th where you will find a link to an online presentation with all the details.

Blue-sky-swifts-flying-over-red-brick-housesBirdWatch Ireland Saving Swifts Guide, published in 2019 is available for free download

  The BirdWatch Ireland Facebook page can be accessed at www.facebook.com/BirdWatchIreland/ And the BirdWatch Ireland YouTube Channel here: www.youtube.com/user/BirdWatchIreland You can also download the Saving Swifts guide free from the BirdWatch Ireland Website here: https://birdwatchireland.ie/publications/saving-swifts-guide/ Published County Swift Survey reports from previous surveys can be downloaded here: https://birdwatchireland.ie/our-work/surveys-research/research-surveys/swift-surveys/   If you would like more information please email Ricky Whelan (BirdWatch Ireland Project Officer) at swifts@birdwatchireland.ie  

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