As this is the last of my blogs for the URBAN BIRDS project – the swift came to mind… Thanks to you all for reading these blogs – I hope you have enjoyed them – and, hopefully, are taking part in the project!
This Blog is part of the DIVERSIFLY project: For more details go here
Swifts are present in our towns and cities from April to August .
I reached for Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss’ book “Wonderland” once I had started writing this blog – their entry for 31 August is titled Swift. Stephen Moss writes:
When I lived in the city, it was hard to connect with nature; so for me the swift was always the perfect reminder that the seasons really do change. Like a bolt from the blue, they would arrive back in the last week of April or first week of May, skidding across the urban skyline as if they’d never been away.
…. Now, by late August, the vast majority of swifts have departed.. But on a fine sunny day I catch sight of a lone straggler, scything through the air as if striving to catch up with those that went ahead of it.
… Few birds better sum up the brevity of the British summer, and few are more welcome when they finally return, eight months hence.
In Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to British Birds he writes:
It’s July here in London, and as I look up at around 7am on this cloudy morning, I can see about half a dozen of them, high up, their crescent silhouette darting around restlessly…. Material for nest building is gathered on the wing.. Once the chicks are hatched they have about six weeks to prepare for their first flight…
In fact he says their latin name Apus apus (so good they named it twice) actually means footless! They do, in fact, and of course have feet – though they are small and rather weak.
My Reader’s Digest Book of British Birds says that no birds are more aerial in their habits than swifts
An article in The Telegraph says scientists tracked 19 Swifts and three of them did not “touch ground” AT ALL for ten full months.
I have found it ridiculously difficult to tell the difference between Swifts, Swallows, and House Martins – until I found this article. Someone told me that martins fly low, swallows, middle, and swifts high but I don’t know if this will always help.
The swift was once known as the ‘devil bird’, because of its flying screaming round houses during late spring and early summer evenings.
Here is a poem by the wonderful Alison Brackenbury, and which can be found in Matthew Oates’ book Beyond Spring-Wanderings through Nature:
But how the swifts rage!
With slash of scored sky
they write summer’s page.
Ted Hughes obviously looked out for them each year. Go here for the full poem:
They’ve made it again,
Which means the globe’s still working, the Creation’s
Still waking refreshed, our summer’s
Still all to come –
And here they are, here they are again
Erupting across yard stones
Shrapnel-scatter terror. Frog-gapers,
Speedway goggles, international mobsters —
A bolas of three or four wire screams
Jockeying across each other
On their switchback wheel of death.
This Blog is part of a series of Blogs that are part of the Fair Acre Press project – DIVERSIFLY: everyday encounters with the birds of Britain’s towns and cities. For more details on the project go here