Wednesday 15 May 2013

Swiftly Come the Swifts

They arrived last week, the familiar sickles high in the sky, the most fleeting of summer visitors. I await their appearance more than just about any other bird, and always feel saddened when they head south in August.

The swifts have arrived.

The swift first appears above the townscapes, relying as it does upon urban areas for nest sites. It stays with us for a scant 3-4 months over the summer, the time it spends on the nest being the only time it is ever off the wing. It's feet and legs are feeble, it can barely stand.

But in the air, it has no master.

(picture Nigel Blake from RSPB website)

It can fly at up to 70mph, but it doesn't keep its aerial prowess for high altitudes. Usually in the evenings as I cycle home from work, they will suddenly drop down from the heights like Y-Wings entering a Death Star trench, and hurtle along the streets emitting a screeching cry. Their wings hardly seem to flap, they just lightly brush the air with the tips as the birds hunt the insects they and their young rely on. As I cycle along, I watch them use their long wings to execute impossibly tight turns before flying over me again, taunting the earthbound commuter with their effortless skills.

They have started nesting under the eaves along Balderton Gate, somehow flying straight into the nest holes at speed without cracking their little skulls. But even avoiding this splattery fate, their numbers are in decline, possibly due to demolition of urban nest sites. 

To me, they are an iconic vision of summer, and hopefully developers will incorporate swift boxes in their new builds. It would be sad to lie back in my garden, and not see them playing in the sky way above me, flying seemingly for the joy of it.

(Photo Graham Catley RSPB website)

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