Well, 42 and 43 days after hatching our two swift chicks have fledged. I knew it would happen, each spent hours gazing from the entrance of the nest box. The adults had stopped feeding them for a day or more. The evening of July 30th was perfect for swift fledging, still and reasonably warm. One adult returned to the nest box before dusk and for a while the two chicks huddled up with it in the nest cup.
Yet, there was an irresistable urge that pulled one chick back to the nest box entrance. As the gloaming set in the sky, trees and buildings were silhouetted, the swiftlet moved ever closer to the edge. At 9.46pm as if physically tugged the chick stumbled out, first clinging desperately to the outside of the nest box for about a second. Then, not the graceful downward flight curve to gain flying speed deployed by the adults but a frantic flapping, a desperate need to be well clear of the earth, to be safe in the night sky. That was it, from egg to fledging something like 63 days of care by the parents, through weather at times more akin to March, when they had to hunt in gale force winds and rain, or even opt to stay in all day to conserve energy.
So, as darkness fell the nest box contained one adult and one chick. The other parent presumably departed, or itself pulled back up to its starry roost. They stayed together for the night, close to each other, preening each other. I knew it would be their last night together, forever. Dawn arrived and the adult left at about 6am, leaving the chick to decide. It was now just a question of when.
At 9.09am after a brief rest back on the nest cup, it walked to the entrance with renewed confidence. Not the hours of teetering on the brink, but a short pause and the start of what could be three years of continuous flight. If it survives it will grace somebody’s eaves next summer, practising approaches and landings, looking for a colony to join, perhaps even exciting someone else who has provided a swift box on their house. In 2022 it might start to find a mate though that will just as likely happen in 2023. Not until summer 2024 will it likely breed for the first time.
Both are now roaming the sky fending entirely for themselves, navigating the way to Africa. Our skies will be swiftless again, leaving the air space clear for our house martins. Three years airbourne, three times to Africa before settling to breed we assume in the UK? Just think about that for a moment, let it sink in. Swifts.
Below. A final pencil portrait of our two swift chicks together both gazing at the open sky before them.