Header photo Neil Wright

If you’ve ever been to the Forest Centre and Millennium Country Park in summer you definitely will have heard the noise of our swift boxes. We put them up about 5 years ago with the long term goal of getting swifts to nest in the Park - so far, no success. But they are nesting as close as St Mary’s Church, down the road in Marston Moretaine (as of this year), so we are getting closer. Check out the video below of the (sped up) swift box installation (by our very own volunteer, Bob Hook). There were swifts heading into the church within hours of these boxes going up - they were that effective.

St Mary

St Mary's Church and a closer look at the holes where the swifts are now nesting

So why aren’t ours attracting swifts yet? It’s probably just bad luck so far - we’re only about half way through our long term, 10-year plan for getting them nesting so there’s plenty of time. There’s still time this year, in theory - as after the first wave of migration in early May (they tend to know exactly what breeding site they’re going back to) you get a second wave of late arrivals in late May/early June who are still looking for a nesting site, especially if their chosen one has been destroyed. Once the youngsters are old enough, they prospect the area for next years’ breeding site, before leaving, but unfortunately a year is a long time and the roofs and fascias they select might not be there next year. Humans have a tendency to patch up holes, repair things, knock things down etc.

We have had them passing through the Park before so we know that we are on their radar - it’s just a matter of time before they choose our boxes - fingers crossed.

They’re fascinating birds - they are completely aerial so they do everything in the air - collecting food and water; mating; they even sleep whilst flying. They can go for 10 months without stopping and they only ever stop when nesting. They collect up to a thousand insects in their mouth to feed their young and will fly up to 500 miles just to find food.

Here’s a video from All Saints Landbeach of swifts with their young inside a nest box so you get a better idea of what it looks like inside:

Sadly their numbers have declined about 50% over the past 30 years - loss of insect species and nesting sites has had a huge impact. Disaster struck earlier in the year as strong winds battered Greece over Easter and left thousands of swifts (and swallows) dead. Extreme weather events are a huge problem for the migration of birds - we’ve had a pair nesting locally as late as September before, as their migration will have been held up by weather/low food supplies. Sadly, it’s another case of humans ruining the natural order of things - we’re responsible for killing off so many insect species and ruining their food supply; we’re responsible for the climate crisis and we’re responsible for their nesting sites being destroyed.

How you can help swifts

But we still have faith that we can turn it around - the planet as a whole needs a lot of work but in terms of swifts, there are things you can do to help:

Get a swift box installed

Contact Bedfordshire Swifts to find out more.

Download the RSPB Swiftmapper App

Help them work out where the swifts are in the UK - click here to find out more.

P.S If you want to see something cute -  here is a lovely video of a swift being hand fed (by Birdlife Malta

For more information about the Millennium Country Park, click here.