|WHY SURVEY ?
· Increasing national and international concern about loss of swift
nest sites leads to an increasing desire to do something about it.
· It is not realistic to propose that ALL building development make
provision for swifts.
· It is generally accepted that we should ensure that provision
is made for swifts in renovation and new-build in and adjacent to
areas where swifts are known or suspected to nest.
· Therefore we need to know where swifts nest now.
· It has also proved useful to see where in the buildings swifts
nest so that appropriate provision can be designed for them.
· Swifts do not always nest where you think they should - see "where
· Very little survey of swift colonies has taken place so far -
the reason may be that "twitchers" prefer to twitch in the countryside
and not around the housing estates.
The AIMS OF SWIFT SURVEY for CONCERN FOR SWIFTS projects are:-
A. to obtain sufficient information
for the purposes of protecting and creating swift nest habitat.
1. To establish the locations of nesting colonies .
2. To obtain some indication of sizes of colonies
3. To identify the type of structure they are nesting in and the
significant location within that structure - i.e. whether the critical
place is under the eaves or soffit, under roof tiles or holes in
the fabric of the building.
4. Actual nest sites spotted are of interest, but as this is usually
time-consuming it is regarded as an extra luxury!
5. To enquire, where possible, about recollections of swift colonies
noted in the past.
B. to make the information easily accessible,
relevant and digestible particularly to planning officials,
architects, housing officials, builders, contractors and local people.
Also to set it out in a form which can
be used as a yardstick against future monitoring or survey. thus:-
1 Information gathered should be put onto data-base.
2 Swift priority areas, derived from the survey and including the
immediately surrounding area will be plotted onto GIS system so
as to be immediately available to development control officers.
3 A written summary and maps will also be produced and available.
| SURVEY METHODS
A Appeal to others for information
The most useful source of information for Glasgow and North Lanarkshire
has been by advertisement or letter to local newspapers. Advertisements
in local libraries did not produce results nor did appeals through
the local authority rangers or conservation bodies. In Glasgow direct
appeal to SOC and RSPB members has produced some information.
Whenever possible, strike up conversation with local people. Children
are best, as they are usually curious to know what you are doing,
and happy to talk about the birds they see - and it's a great opportunity
for a bit of education. Adults are sometimes curious about someone
wandering about the streets apparently peering at the upstairs windows
- but its surprising how often no-one seems to notice me girating
in the street for half an hour or more as I try to follow the pattern
of the swifts' flight.
B. What to look and listen for.
It is generally safe to assume that the presence of "screaming parties"
or calling swifts is an indication that swifts are nesting in the
buildings around which they are flying. You cannot miss or mistake
a good low screaming party around the houses.
Occasionally swifts may be heard calling from the nest, ( which
is a dead giveaway!) and you may be lucky enough to see a swift
disappear into a building. Also, swifts will prefer to feed as close
to the nest as possible, and so feeding swifts will be seen in good
weather generally cruising around the area they are nesting in.
A pair of swifts nesting at some distance from others will usually
go to join those others to party, and a local party will draw in
other swifts from close by. Screaming parties high in the air, usually
late in the season, are a bit more problematic. This activity may
be compared to swallows collecting on telegraph wires before migrating,
and thus is not indicative of the local colony. Do not forget to
record places visited where no swifts were seen
C. Where to look.
Swifts may be found anywhere where there are buildings. There are
several myths about swift nests - one is that they always nest in
towers, another that they always nest in old buildings. They do
not have our perceptions about buildings, and will nest anywhere
where they find a suitable cavity accessed by a suitable hole. If
surveyors do not go into housing estates to look for swifts, they
won't see them there. ( see "where swifts nest").
D. When to look.
It is generally found that swifts are most visibly active around
8.30 - 9.30 in the morning, around mid-day and from 9 - 9.30 until
dark time in the evening. The most prolonged displays are usually
in the evenings, and activity increases as the season progresses.
So this is the most reliable time to go out…BUT swifts only party
in good weather. Trying to survey swift colonies in the past two
poor summers has been very frustrating.
E. Some inferences from data
There are quite a few uncertainties in drawing conclusions from
swift survey. Firstly it must always be remembered that swifts do
not read the books. Any generalisation is only that and not an unassailable
Swifts do have a characteristic display in the vicinity of buildings
where they are nesting, and by going to look for swifts at a time
when they may be expected to be screaming around and in good weather
conditions, swift survey can be made to look straightforward; but…..
Nil sighting of swifts at a single visit cannot be taken
as evidence of no swifts, even if the weather is ideal - they may
be partying with the neighbours.
Sighting of one or two swifts around buildings on a cold
wet evening can be taken as conclusive evidence that there are at
least one or two swifts there, but probably more and that the area
would repay another visit on a fine evening.
All members of a screaming party are not necessarily nesting
in the buildings they are screaming around. A good scream in an
urban area will draw in swifts from a wider area. But it will be
safe to assume that some are nesting there. With practice and good
timing, swifts going into holes become easier to spot, and so certainty
becomes a possiblity.
F. Outline conclusions at August 2002
In Edinburgh, Glasgow and North Lanarkshire swift "colonies" are
small - usually 6 - 12 birds seen at any one time, though in the
context of large cities, the concept of "colony" itself becomes
difficult, particularly when larger groupings are seen and assumed
to be amalgamations of local colonies.
In both Glasgow and Edinburgh it has been found that swifts are
absent in the city centres. In Edinburgh, SOC survey has concluded
that swifts have not moved out of the older buildings. (but note
that absence of surveyors & of swifts.)
In Glasgow, however, swifts have adapted well to the houses built
between and after the wars and particularly favour those constructed
with a concrete plinth at the eaves. They are found in the peripheral
estates. Note the first (?) sighting of a swift nest in a multi-storey
In North Lanarkshire they are found nesting in buildings as recent
as the 60s/70s.The two summers of survey in North Lanarkshire have
had exceptionally poor weather so coverage has not been as good
(More information on survey to follow - meanwhile detailed information
is available from
Edinburgh - contact Ian Andrews,
39 Clayknowes Drive, Musselburgh EH21 6UW e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
or Sue Steel, Edinburgh biodiversity officer, Conservation and Design,
City Development Department, 1 Cockburn Street, EH1 1ZJ e-mail email@example.com
Glasgow - contact Clare Darlaston
2/1 287 Onslow Drive, Dennistoun, Glasgow G31 2QG e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
North Lanarkshire - contact Clare Darlaston
The following is the text of a swift survey form which is usually
printed out onto two sides of A5.
SWIFT SURVEY (e.g. 2002)
Many people believe that swifts are declining in our towns and villages
and that a significant reason for this decline is the sealing of
all gaps in buildings during repairs or new building.
The swift is one of the species given priority in several local
biodiversity action plans and Housing/Planning committees in these
areas agree to a policy of swift nest-site conservation. It is hoped
that others will also agree to ACT. (policies are easy - action
is another matter!)
In order to gain protection for swifts we need to know where they
are and, most importantly, which areas they nest in.
Although it is difficult to spot nest sites - particularly in towns
- their characteristic habit of chasing around the roofs in groups,
uttering shrill screams - aptly called "screaming parties" indicates
that they are nesting in the area.
If you see them, please note:-
The date you saw them
Street name/names or building name (e.g. Crusty Castle) and
the style of building.
Town or village name.
The number you saw or approximate number ( e.g. 8 - 12 or
30/40). It is not always easy to count them.
Any nest sites you do see and any comment of interest.
It is important also to record places where they used to
be, either from your own memory or from anecdotal evidence, as there
are very few existing records of swift colonies.
Please remember to send also your name
and address - e-mail identification does not always give this.
This information will be collated onto data-base and put onto maps;
and can be used to influence swift conservation.
Example of survey form below:- please return to C. Darlaston, Concern
for Swifts (Scotland) 287 Onslow Drive, Dennistoun, Glasgow G31
2QG e-mail email@example.com
for "Swift Survey Form"