The clocks have gone forward, there’s signs that spring has sprung, and one of the true delights of an English summer, swifts on the wing, will soon be back in the skies above Croydon.
These small, fast-flying birds are returning to our shores after a 7,000-mile migration from sub-Saharan Africa. A week or so into May should see them back in areas where they should breed.
But a survey conducted by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Croydon Local Group has found that the number of gardens reporting sightings of swifts had dropped from 73 per cent in 1995 to just 42 per cent by 2016.
This trend is reflected elsewhere with the British Trust for Ornithology‘s Breeding Bird Survey showing a nationwide population decline of 53 per cent between 1995 and 2016.
In London, the figures are worse, with a 58 per cent decline over the same period.
As with so many wildlife species, the problem for swifts is a loss of habitat. In this case, their problem is the kind of houses that are being built.
“Swifts have a strong affinity with man-made structures and often nest in eaves, flying up to the building and swooping in through a gap between the wall and roof,” John Birkett, of the RSPB Croydon Group, told Inside Croydon.
“They will also make use of small holes left by missing bricks or gaps between barge boards and gable ends of a roof.
“We would like people to report sightings of swifts in the Croydon area. This will allow us to monitor where they can be found. Also telling us about what the birds were doing could help us to establish whether they are potentially nesting somewhere; birds flying into the eaves shows there is a nest there, while birds screaming around a rooftop would suggest there is a territory nearby.
“Those wheeling around high up may either be feeding or trying attract a mate and some will simply be passing through. We can use this information to help us decide what to do next.”
Birkett asks that people should email him at email@example.com with information about when and where you saw your swifts, along with number of birds.
“Even better, if there are swifts in your area you could try putting up a swift nest box or, if you are having structural work done to your house (or know a neighbour who is), you could consider having a swift nesting brick, with integral nest box installed.
“And, if you hear of maintenance work going on (or scheduled) on a building where swifts nest, try having a word with the owners to mitigate against losing the nest site or access to it.”
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