· 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 swifts nest"
· 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.


A. to obtain sufficient information for the purposes of protecting and creating swift nest habitat. thus:-
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.

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 rule.

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 flat.

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 as hoped.

(More information on survey to follow - meanwhile detailed information is available from

Edinburgh - contact Ian Andrews, 39 Clayknowes Drive, Musselburgh EH21 6UW e-mail or Sue Steel, Edinburgh biodiversity officer, Conservation and Design, City Development Department, 1 Cockburn Street, EH1 1ZJ e-mail

Glasgow - contact Clare Darlaston 2/1 287 Onslow Drive, Dennistoun, Glasgow G31 2QG e-mail

North Lanarkshire
- contact Clare Darlaston

West Sussex

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
Click for "Swift Survey Form"
© ConcernForSwifts 2002