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July 28th- swifts so near to fledging

I was watching the swiftlets today. They have been fed a few times this morning but are spending much of their day gazing at the outside world. Their facial feathers are largely white so they look very different to the adults. The white feathers accentuate the large dark eyes and finely cut bill. They gaze at anything that moves- passing flies, the nearby house martins feeding their chicks and me down below with my sketchbook. But with any sudden noise they rush to the back of the nest box, moulding into the right angled corners.

I try to imagine myself in the swiftlet’s position. 42 days of safety, bonded bliss with my parents and siblings, about to venture forth into open sky. No more mutual preening or close warmth and comfort of another swift for a minimum of two years. As I write the two nestlings sit close on the nest cup /nibbling each other’s faces and necks, perhaps a form of preparation for the astonishing bond they will have to form with a mate in two, probably three year’s time.

Much is written of the potential perils for a fledging swift, and rightly so. If they get that first flight wrong they are easy prey for a cat or corvid. But in reality they rarely do get it wrong. I have seen swifts fledge from places we would never advise people to put nest boxes, weaving through trees before aiming high into the sky, astonishing spatial awareness from the outset and often in near darkness. Think about the relative safety of fledging like a swift. Once you are away, clear of obstructions you are one of the fastest and most efficient birds. Most swifts I have seen fledge have gone into the gloaming to spend, we presume, their first night on the wing. Surely this is far safer than a blackbird or robin near the base of the garden hedge. So truly a fledging swift is remarkable but it all makes perfect sense.

Below. Swifts looking out of the best box, both on the verge of fledging.

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