May 20th- a slow swift arrival

Since my last swift and house martin update very little has changed. There has been no arrival of house martins in the village since 10th May. This has meant that those birds that are here have settled in existing mud nests or artificial nests. I hope more of last year’s breeding house martins will turn up as well as the usual later wave of first time breeders which tends to arrive in the second half of May and June. The two pairs in our artificial nests are not yet incubating eggs and with very poor weather here I can imagine a further delay in breeding and in the arrival of more birds. We know swifts are very late to build up numbers this year and hope martins are the same- time will tell.

Our swift pair is very settled, but like the house martins they are having to make the most of any fine weather to feed, hence there is very little activity around the nesting sites. Large numbers of swifts were recorded passing watchpoints in the south of France on 17th May- yesterday the area saw an arrival of swifts from this passage. So numbers have increased but hopefully there are many more breeding swifts to arrive yet. There was another big ‘pulse’ of swifts north through the south of France yesterday but with the weather here deteriorating so rapidly it remains to be seen whether they carry on to our shores quickly or bide their time on the Continent.

The skies recently have been stunning with a typical day seeing cumulus cloud building up through the morning and some impressive cumulonimbus clouds forming by early afternoon. For me this has been a week to paint skies. Something I look forward to each winter is days outside painting summer skies containing swifts, swallows and house martins. As I write the temperature has dropped to 9C and moderate to heavy rain is set in. Our swift pair is in the nest box huddled close to each other, conserving the energy they gained from this morning’s dry feeding sortie. It is going to be a tough few days for the swifts, swallows and martins. Many swifts will have just arrived and will need to build up condition ahead of breeding- no easy task with so few insects on the wing.

It you are trying to attract swifts to your nest boxes, playing calls often has little or no effect at this point in the swift season. That is because most swifts here are already tied to an existing nest site. However it could just be worthwhile; if local swifts have lost a nest site you might persuade them to use a nest box. So for now don’t be despondent if your calls have no reaction even from swifts overhead. Hopefully towards the very end of the month, given warmer weather the first non breeding prospecting swifts will be here; this is the time playing calls can really work its magic. From my own observations starting colonies, 6-11am is the peak time for prospecting or ‘banging’, perhaps especially 7-10am. There is often a session at lunchtime or at the end of the afternoon on really warm days. Evenings in my experience are best for watching high speed low fly pasts and actual prospecting is more unusual than during the morning. Good luck!


Swifts huddled up on nest
Swifts mutual preening

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