The Wren Wildlife Group, London Wildlife Trust and Wild Wanstead have compiled a list of 10 species at risk of local extinction. In the seventh of a series of articles looking at each species in turn, Susie Knox says farewell to this summer’s swifts
Over the last few months, it’s been a joy to hear the distinctive screaming of the swifts as they zoom in small groups high over Wanstead in their endless aerial search for insects. Swifts spend most of their lives flying, even sleeping, eating and drinking on the wing and only ever landing to nest. Their scientific name, Apus, actually means ‘without feet’ because their tiny feet and legs mean they can hardly walk and can’t perch on trees or telephone lines (if you see a similar-looking bird do this, it’s probably a swallow or house martin).
Swifts come to the UK in the summer to breed and spend their winters in Africa – travelling thousands of miles during their migration. They like to nest high up in buildings in small holes in roof spaces. They pair for life, meeting up in the spring at the same nest site and sharing parenting duties. They normally lay two or three eggs and incubate them for about three weeks.
Sadly, swifts are on the Amber List of Birds of Conservation Concern. More than half of British swifts have been lost since 1995, probably because of a number of factors. We know from scientific evidence and the absence of bugs on our car windscreens that there have been very significant declines in flying insects, their food source.
As migratory birds, weather events associated with climate change will also impact them. But one very obvious issue in the UK is the loss of nesting sites in recent decades due to the modernisation of buildings, because swifts require suitable hollows and crevices in the eaves. In Wanstead, locals certainly report heavy falls in the number of swifts we see and hear in our skies over the summer.
Fortunately, there are lots of things we can do to support swift populations when they’re spending time with us.
How to help:
- If you’re lucky enough to have swifts nesting in your building, protect them by ensuring any building work near their nests is carefully managed.
- Put a special swift nest box under the eaves of your roof – or if you are having new building or renovation work done, incorporate ‘swift bricks’, which create nest holes integrated into the masonry (find out more at wnstd.com/swiftinfo).
- Email your local councillors asking them to demand that any new developments in Redbridge incorporate swift bricks.
- Make your garden an oasis for flying insects. Fill it with dense foliage and pollinator-friendly plants.
- Install a wildlife pond and create a long grass area – these are habitats that help insects thrive.
- Never use pesticides and lobby the council to stop using them.
For more information about the 10 species under threat of extinction in Wanstead, visit wnstd.com/the10