Swift

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

Status

Widespread though declining 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

Advocacy

Wildlife in Buildings documentary

[vc_row type="in_container" full_screen_row_position="middle" scene_position="center" text_color="dark" text_align="left" overlay_strength="0.3" shape_divider_position="bottom" shape_type=""][vc_column column_padding="no-extra-padding" column_padding_position="all" background_color_opacity="1" background_hover_color_opacity="1" column_link_target="_self" column_shadow="none" column_border_radius="none" width="1/1" tablet_width_inherit="default" tablet_text_alignment="default" phone_text_alignment="default" column_border_width="none" column_border_style="solid"][vc_column_text]

A new video highlights the importance of the built environment for wildlife and celebrates the species which have adapted to live alongside us and share our homes, and the measures that we can take to ensure we make space for nature

  People live in buildings, and wildlife lives in “nature” - right? Well, not quite. For as long as we have built structures for our protection and shelter, wildlife has taken advantage of these buildings for the very same reasons. From the diverse range of birds and mammals which have colonised abandoned ruins in remote rural landscapes, to wildlife which has moved into suburban and urban areas to live alongside us and even share our homes, buildings have become an integral component of the Irish landscape for biodiversity.
A ruined Abbey which is used by a wide range of wildlife ©  John Lusby
  Certain species are expected residents within our buildings, and for some the association with buildings is apparent even from their names, such as the ‘House Martin’ which builds its mud nest in the apex of the roof of occupied houses, and the ‘Barn Swallow’ which travels from Africa to nest in farmyards throughout the country. The vision of a Barn Owl floating silently from a ruined castle at dusk may seem familiar, but less expected occupants may be a pair of Kestrels nesting in a flower box outside a busy kitchen window, or a female Pine Marten raising her kits in the roof space of an occupied dwelling. Of course, much of the wildlife which use buildings go unnoticed, such as bats roosting in the attic of a house in which the inhabitants beneath remain blissfully unaware of their presence.
Swift ©  Artur Tabor, Lesser Horseshoe Bat © Ruth Hanniffy
  Given the importance of buildings for wildlife, changes to the built environment can affect wildlife associated with it. Wildlife in buildings can often be harmed during works due to a lack of awareness of their presence or indeed knowledge of how plan renovations and works in order to avoid disturbance, which is usually always possible. The loss of old stone structures due to demolition, dilapidation or renovation is linked to declines in species such as Barn Owl and Swift, which are dependent on these structures. Modern buildings do not provide the same opportunities for wildlife. However, there is a lot that we can do to improve modern buildings for wildlife to ensure that we continue to make space for nature.
There are many ways we can improve modern buildings for wildlife such as this example, where a purpose built Barn Owl nest site was incorporated in the building  
  BirdWatch Ireland and CrowCrag Productions in partnership with Laois County Council, Clare County Council and Tipperary County Council and supported by the National Biodiversity Action Plan Fund of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage have produced a nature documentary to celebrate the wildlife which have taken up residence in the built environment, and to showcase some of our most iconic wildlife species which are reliant on buildings for their survival. John Lusby, BirdWatch Ireland, commented, We wanted to celebrate the importance of buildings for wildlife and to create a better link between our built heritage and our natural heritage – as the two are intertwined. The diversity of species which use buildings, and the ways in which they have adapted to use the built environment, is truly astonishing. As the built environment is constantly changing, we need to make sure that we avoid disturbance to sensitive species and also to continue to provide space for wildlife in buildings, which has benefits for wildlife as well as ourselves. We hope that this feature increases awareness and appreciation of the importance of the built environment for wildlife and provides the necessary information to help conserve some of our most vulnerable and iconic wildlife which are dependent on buildings for their survival’.
Kestrel in flight © Michael O'Clery, Kestrel nest in castle © John Lusby
  Roisin O’Grady, Heritage Officer with Tipperary County Council said ‘We share the world with nature and it can be closer to us than we think. Tipperary County Council is delighted to support this film highlighting the importance of our built environment, heritage or otherwise in providing shelter for such a variety of species, some of which are our most vulnerable. Given the high levels of habitat loss we have experienced over the last number of years it is more important than ever to be aware of how species have adapted to our built environment and how we can support this ‘co-habitation’ and equally important in newer development how we ‘make space’ for nature’.
Renovations and other works on buildings can have unintended consequences for wildlife if not planned appropriately © Conor Kelleher
  Congella McGuire, Heritage Officer with Clare County Council commented ‘The Local Authority Heritage Officer Network is delighted to be associated with this Wildlife in Buildings video and the guidance booklet ‘Wildlife in Buildings: linking our built and natural heritage’ both of which were produced with the support of the Local Authorities and National Biodiversity Action Plan Fund’.
Workhouse in ruins © Michael O'Clery, Barn Owls in chimney nest © John Lusby
  The video ‘Wildlife in Buildings: linking our built and natural heritage’ is available to view below or here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lQt3C8uI5E This video accompanies the guidance booklet on Wildlife in Buildings, which is available here: https://www.kerrycoco.ie/wildlife-in-buildings/ ‘Wildlife in Buildings: linking our built and natural heritage’ was produced by BirdWatch Ireland, Kerry County Council and Donegal County Council, with funding from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage through the National Biodiversity Action Plan Fund.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lQt3C8uI5E&t=782s[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Species

Could Swifts disappear from Waterford City and surrounds?

We now have a month of Swift surveying for the Waterford Swift Survey 2021 behind us. So far in Waterford City and surrounds we still have very little to show for our efforts. Despite repeat calls for records of nesting Swifts, few colonies have come to light in the city or in the nearby towns and villages. This absence in the east part of the county contrasts with the picture shown in the west. Swift survey efforts carried out by the volunteers of the West Waterford Eco Group have identified multiple swift nesting colonies.  Very healthy Swift numbers are to be found in localities such as Dungarvan, Ardmore and Lismore. An evening stroll in Dungarvan is a spectacle indeed for the Swift lover, but further east the skies fall largely silent when it comes to the scream of the Swift. [audio mp3="https://birdwatchireland.ie/app/uploads/2021/06/XC586085-Common-Swift-Apus-apus.mp3"][/audio]

Swifts "screaming call" - Xeno Canto

We haven’t completely drawn a blank in the city. St Otterans Hospital has nests and a decent colony in a city apartment complex has given some hope. Tramore has a few nests too but nothing like you would expect from a town of its size. Overall though the eastern part of the county is the poor relation of the west. With your help we want to ensure we identify as many of the existing colonies we can. With numbers this low in the east of the county each colony is critically important and if we know its location, we can protect the site for nesting Swifts now and into the future.  

Swifts can be confused with Swallows, House and Sand Martins. This ID chart can be useful in separating each species -BirdWatch Ireland

Once again, we are calling on Waterford residents in the east of the county to take a look for Swifts.  If you encounter Swifts regularly on your street or are aware of a site where they nest, email us at swifts@birdwatchireland.ie. The Waterford Swift Survey 2021 is a collaboration with Waterford County Council Heritage Office and is funded by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government through the National Parks and Wildlife Service Biodiversity Action Plan Fund

Similar Species

Swallow

Irish Name:
Fáinleog
Scientific name:
Hirundo rustica
Bird Family:
Swallows & Martins

House Martin

Irish Name:
Gabhlán Binne
Scientific name:
Delichon urbicum
Bird Family:
Swallows & Martins

Sand Martin

Irish Name:
Gabhlán Gainimh
Scientific name:
Riparia riparia
Bird Family:
Swallows & Martins