Where Swifts Nest or Nested

Swifts have adapted to nesting almost exclusively in buildings, but very occasionally nest in trees or caves. Basically they nest in suitable holes.

Swifts are known to return to the same site year after year (in some cases for hundreds of years) and their preference for site fidelity makes retaining existing nest sites a top priority in any project.

Swifts on the nest
Swifts On The Nest - Photo by David Callan

Generally swifts are dependant on small holes on the outside of a building giving access to a larger space within. They may rear young in the large open area provided by a loft, or in the small space provided between the tiles and the sarking, below tiles or by collapsed masonry inside a wall.

Most modern building methods take every precaution to ensure that there are no small holes or gaps and many modern materials (like plastics, metals and reinforced concrete) do not deteriorate to form suitable holes and gaps.


Swifts only nest in old buildings

No - they nest in buildings which have suitable nesting places. We are sure that some swift colonies in post-war buildings go unrecorded because people cling obstinately to the idea swifts only nest in really old buildings, and fail to explore later housing estates.

Swifts like old buildings
Gartloch Hospital, Glasgow

Swifts only nest in the urban environment

No - they are also recorded in remote places where there is only one building, and maybe one or two sites. Assume nothing; the assumptions are made by humans, not by swifts. While it seems to be true that they are attracted to the sound of other swifts, they also find nest sites in remote areas with no other swifts within calling distance.

Swifts in remote, rural dwellings
Swifts in remote, rural dwellings. Glenhead farm in Tayside. Photo by Andrew Rogers

Swifts nest in church towers

No - swifts do not naturally nest in church towers. They do swirl around towers as the updraughts caused by the building draw in the small insects/aerial plankton that swifts feed on, leading some people to believe they are nesting there. Known church tower sites are man-made.

Swifts only nest in sites over 5m above ground level

No - chosen height above ground level seems to depend on availability – with plenty of recorded sites being at 2 – 3m above ground level. More important is a clear flight path to the site.  

Low nest sites
There is a swift nest site over the door lintel of this ruined house in Findhorn. This is not an unusual location in towns with predominantly single storey buildings. Photo by John Wilson

Man-made swift nest sites

Torre del Castellaro in Emiglia Romagna
There have been man-made swift nest-sites in the past. Perhaps the first swift nest site project was in Tuscany, where, in the middle ages, a tower was built specifically to attract swifts so that the young could be harvested for food!
tower of the Museum of Science in Oxford
The tower of the Museum of Science in Oxford (where David Lack and others installed boxes in 1948 for the purpose of studying the birds) is a well-known and early example of provision for swifts. Swifts still nest there in man-made boxes and are closely monitored.
Low nest sites
At The Hirsel, in Coldstream, Henry Douglas Hume, the naturalist (aka the birdman), put up boxes in 1950-54 and attracted a colony. The boxes were renewed in 1990 and the colony still nests at the Hirsel. Photo by John Letham, Estate Manager, July 2017

The following examples are nests in Scotland

Carrick Castle

Swifts in historic buildings
A wonderful, isolated and vulnerable colony in Argyle. Swifts flash in and out of holes in the stone work here with an interesting synchronicity not observable in the urban environment. I have watched a dozen or so leave within seconds of each other and similarly return as a straggling group, all with a short timeframe.

Culzean Castle

Swift nest at Culzean Castle
A site in the wall at Culzean Castle, retained during renovation in the 1990s by Gordon Riddle, then warden. Photo by Gordon Riddle

Broughton House

The tiniest of gaps makes a home
 In Broughton House in Kirkudbright, swifts gain access to their nests via gaps between the stone lintels. Photo by Lindsay MacKinlay, National Trust for Scotland Nature Conservation Advisor

Sandstone house

Sandstone degrades perfectly for swifts
Often buildings of this style are built with better (harder) sandstone, which does not wear as well (from the swifts’ point of view that is!) – but swifts were gaining access to roof space behind the rhone of this old public building in Wishaw, North Lanarkshire, which was incidentally retained when the building was renovated

Sandstone tenements

In 19th century sandstone tenements, swifts often nest on the wall head, gaining access via gaps in stone and broken pointing.
Gaps formed by modern technology
In this 1920 red sandstone tenement, swifts nest in the roof, gaining access via gaps in stone and broken pointing. Trailing TV cables have worn large gaps in the top course – an instance of modern technology favouring swifts!
A tight squeeze
This photo was taken just before renovation and you can see a swift’s wing trailing along the faschia as it scuffled from the entrance hole to its nest site. For whatever reason this is an unusually messy site; probably starlings have nested here too.
Nest protected behind the rone
A nest site behind a rhone pipe. In this case, swifts gained access via the gap in the flashing. My theory is that they particularly like this situation as the pipe gives them extra protection!


In the 1930s onwards, roof tiles were sealed at the gable ends using mortar (tiffing). Over time the mortar wore away, leaving gaps and cracks where swifts got access to the small spaces under the tiles- probably no more than 50mm deep and on the batons.

Swift nest under tiles
That space under the ridge tiles also provided swift nest sites. Nearly all these buildings have been demolished or renovated now.
Low nest sites
Swifts also typically may nest inside these roofs, (e.g. Whinhall, Airdrie) gaining access via gaps and cracks in the concrete lintels at the eaves.

There are miles and miles of estates built in this period and in this basic style. In many Scottish cities, swifts have moved into these schemes, which are now subject to wholesale renovation and demolition  

The assumption that swifts nest in old buildings too often leads to these colonies being ignored – this style was used until the 1960s.

Castlemilk in Glasgow, 1950s
Although different in appearance, these tenements use a similar construction detail at roof level. In this scheme (Castlemilk in Glasgow – built in 1950s) swifts nested over the concrete lintels. All nest sites lost due to renovation.
Typical construction style suits swifts
This picture shows a detail of a typical construction of the eaves in this style of building. Swifts would nest in that space under the tiles and on top of the sarking.
Whinhall in Airdrie, North Lanarkshire
Here, as can be seen, swifts nest on the concrete lintel, gaining access via a small space on the end. Whinhall in Airdrie, North Lanarkshire
1960s local authority housing
Later in the 1960s this style was developed and is characteristic of local authority housing in some areas in Scotland, notably the central belt (Edinburgh and Dundee).
Access underneath the faschia boards
Swifts were seen gaining access under the faschia of this block of flats in Moodiesburn, North Lanarkshire. This reflects records of nest sites in similar housing schemes. In most cases, repair works later excluded them.

Behind the faschia on other elevations there was originally chicken wire to permit ventilation and prevent access by birds, but over time the chicken wire deteriorated, allowing access to the internal space for swifts (as well as sparrows and starlings too).

Access underneath the faschia boards
In these buildings from the 1960s, swifts can gain access to nest space under the terracotta, gable-end tile, as in this case in Forgewood, Motherwell.
Terracotta tiles in Howgill, Glasgow
Terracotta tiles were commonly used until plastic took over in later developments (as seen in Howgill in Glasgow).
Just because it looks quite recent, does not mean there are no swifts
Just because it looks quite recent, it doesn't mean there are no swifts. In this scheme swifts were/are nesting under the tiles
Gaps in broken pointing
gaining access via broken pointing in the gable ends
Under the pantiles
but also under the pantiles – where they defy perceived wisdom on their need for a direct flight path into and off the nest by going up and over the gutter to get under the tiles. The space they use there must be very restricted as well as on a slope!
haddington - swift emerging from pantiles
In another example of a more recent housing scheme in Haddington, swifts have managed to nest under the pantiles in the same way. Note that most tiles are blocked off at the ends – but where the concrete end block has fallen out (or been omitted) swifts have gained access below the tiles. Sometimes conservation is a happy accident and all the better for that!  

In older buildings – and more often seen on the continent, particularly in Holland, where the roofs are usually at a steeper 60 degree slope – swifts will get under slipped or broken tiles on the roof

Repairs less regimented in a private housing schemes
This scheme in Balloch was built in the late 1960s. I “found” a colony here in 2015. Generally they disappear up under the faschia, but may also gain access from small faults in the gable ends.
Perfect nesting space
I particularly like finding swifts nesting in schemes like this one; firstly because it is private and so it is not likely that all houses would be repaired at once, and secondly because, being fairly recent, they should be good for another 20 years at least.
Gaps after renovation
Modern renovation can (inadvertently) leave swift nest spaces. This shows the position of a nest site in a recently converted building in Creetown (in 2014), Galloway, proving that modern buildings can very well accommodate swifts.  
Poor design can help swifts
I have once (in Drumchapel) seen a swift go into this space – which gives cause for hope, as this is a feature on very modern buildings! What an easy way that is of making provision for swifts – by just not butting the gutter hard up to the end tile.


If you have pictures of modern buildings with swifts nesting in them and are happy for them to be published on this website, send them to swiftscot@yahoo.co.uk with some basic information, property age, location and date of photograph.