Top tips for helping swifts in Swift Awareness Week 16 – 23 June

By Cait Sweeney at

Swifts are masters of the sky, who can do everything on the wing including eating, sleeping and drinking – and can fly faster than 60mph. Swifts use gaps and cracks in buildings to nest in, but sadly a loss of suitable nesting sites and reduction in airborne insects has meant that swift numbers declined by 51% from 1995 to 2015.
Emily Seccombe, Oxford Swift City Project Officer, has three top tips for anyone who wants to help swifts.

Food

“People can help save swifts by increasing their food supply,” suggests Emily. “Swifts are dependent on flying insects such as flies, beetles and aphids. Insects are in decline due to a loss of habitat, pesticide use and intensive agriculture. Planting native British wildflowers in your garden will help to develop the insect populations that swifts need. If you don’t have a garden, you can always encourage your workplace, school, or other local spaces to do sow some wildflower seeds instead!”

Putting up a nestbox

Emily says: “Swifts are urban nesting birds; they make their nests in the cracks and crevices under tiles or in stonework. A major cause of swifts’ decline is the loss of nest spaces in buildings, due to demolition or renovation of old buildings. Modern buildings often lack the spaces that swifts need. People can give swifts a home by putting up a swift nestbox. These need to be attached to the outside of the building over 5m high. Southern facing walls should be avoided as the boxes may overheat.”
The Oxford Swift City Project is also offering free swift nestboxes to local groups within the Oxford City boundary. Email oxfordswiftcity@rspb.org.uk for more details.

Recording swifts

“You can help us to understand which areas are important for swifts by telling us where you see them. All the data collected in Oxford is being sent it to the local environmental centre and the council,” Emily explains. “This means it can be used by developers, planners and ecologists to incorporate swifts into Oxford’s infrastructure, so this data is really important.”

Anyone can enter sightings of low flying or nesting swifts in the RSPB Swift Survey: https://swiftsurvey.org/Rspb/Home/Index

Oxford Swift City is a partnership project led by the RSPB, working alongside the community to help protect local swifts. The project partners are organising surveys run by volunteers, raising awareness through walks and talks, improving nesting sites and working with local people. This exciting two-year project, which launched in May 2017, has been made possible by National Lottery players and through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

For more information on swifts and the Oxford Swift City project, visit https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/projects/oxford-swift-city/

Photo Credit: Swift by Norman Smith