A Garden Birder’s Diary: Summer Swifts

Last week’s sunshine was perfect weather for watching one of our most amazing migrant birds the Common Swift. Rarely seen perched as apart from breeding they spend most of their lives surfing the sky, riding invisible currents, Swifts are one of those species you really need to look up for.

After a morning working in the garden I noticed a couple of Swifts drifting back and forth overhead and thought that the perfect excuse to lie down and take a better look. High above the garden they twisted, dipped and soared, barely moving the scythe-shaped wings as they fed on high-flying insects.

Later in the week leading a guided walk in Northumberland’s Druridge Bay we encountered several Swifts, this time lower, moving north over sand dunes, purposeful and in active flight, cuttimg through the coastal breeze with urgency and preciseness.


They are easily distinguished from swallows and martins, with longer sickle-shaped wings and all-brown plumage. You might recognise them as those dark birds that delight in hurling themselves about in groups low over our rooftops, screaming in apparent delight as they tumble and twist in the air.


Swifts are another species that have had a tough time in recent years; there has been a dramatic decline of 50% in just 20 years. This is partly because they have adapted to nest in our houses and they increasingly struggle to find nest sites as old buildings are upgraded and new homes are sealed tight preventing nesting opportunities.


This coming week is Swift Awareness Week (16-23 June), organised by a number of grassroots groups there are over 80 awareness events planned all over Britain (details here). These events aim to raise awareness of Swifts and bring a focus to their plight and provide information about how to help them. The Swift is one of the few endangered species that individuals really can help in their own property and there are many groups across the country involved in trying to help them. If you’ve taken photographs of your local Swifts why not share them in our new GardenBird VIP Group.

Our Garden Birder – Alan Tilmouth

Our Garden Birder’s Diary is written by Northumberland-based birder Alan Tilmouth who has been birdwatching for over 30 years and writing about birds in various guises for the last decade. A keen garden birdwatcher, he also manages to unearth the odd rare bird on his travels. You can find Alan on Twitter and his Facebook blog.