Birdwatch Ireland Swift Conservation
Birdwatch Ireland trains teams of swift conservation volunteers – many of whom belong to Tidy Town groups and other community initiatives – to protect swift nesting sites as part of the Swift Conservation programme. There are between 500-600 volunteers in up to 50 community groups throughout Ireland.
Life on the wing is the blog on which community groups share their stories about swift conservation. The title couldn’t be more apt because these summer migrants live so much of their time in the air. When the fledglings leave the nest at three to four weeks, they won’t touch the ground for up to a year. They eat and drink on the wing and even fly up high in the night sky to sleep. They don’t perch because they have tiny feet and almost no legs and their nesting sites are hidden from sight in the eaves of buildings.
Brian Caffrey from Birdwatch Ireland says that people are enthralled by swifts – partly because they live amongst us – nesting in buildings in our towns, cities and villages and partly because we can do something to protect these nesting sites in the eaves of our houses, churches and schools.
“We’ve lost about one quarter of our swift population over the last 30 years which is the main reason why we run our national volunteer led survey, supported by a grant from the Heritage Council,” says Caffrey.
Members of Birdwatch Ireland train volunteers to distinguish swifts from similar birds such as swallows and martins. “They are faster and larger than swallows and martins but also, you can see the cup nests of swallows and the dome nests of martins but you can’t see the swifts’ nests because it will be up under an eave or in a wall,” explains Caffrey.
The biggest problem regarding conservation of swifts is, according to Caffrey, the fact that they are only protected during the nesting season. “So, apart from May-August, people can make changes to their roofs, preventing swifts from coming back to nest there again next year. And, swifts will come back to the exact same spot and if their nesting site is gone, they won’t breed that year,” says Caffrey.
So Birdwatch Ireland trains teams of swift conservation volunteers – main of whom belong to Tidy Town groups and other community initiatives – to protect these nesting sites as part of the Swift Conservation programme.
“Better building techniques block out the nesting sites of swifts so we encourage builders to put in four to ten swift bricks which are cement blocks with an entrance hole into a hollow to allow swifts to nest,” says Caffrey. Swift nest boxes are also used in some cases.
“Our volunteers are our swift champions in towns, cities and villages around Ireland. Once they identify where the swifts are nesting, they can alert owners before renovation works take place. Our job is to give them enough information and encouragement to protect their local swift population. People do feel empowered that they can actually protect swifts,” says Caffrey.
There are between 500-600 volunteers in up to 50 community groups throughout Ireland. So, if you are interested in joining a team of volunteers in your local area, contact Brian Caffrey on firstname.lastname@example.org