Swift diary- some new swifts arrive and a brutal tree sparrow attack

At last, on a cloudy but warm morning more swifts arrived. Most activity was between 7- 9am with new birds landing on the breeders’ nest boxes provoking screams from the occupants. These birds are typical of the older non breeders who arrive now;  this behaviour could well be social rather than prospecting, if they were prospecting they could clearly land on empty boxes too, but they don’t. Perhaps they are swifts joining the colony and seeing who is nesting where- we just don’t know. Later in the morning a lone prospecting bird was seen exploring the eaves. These are often very significant prospectors, probably the older non breeding males who deliberately search at quiet times when few other swifts are around. They can sometimes breed in the same year if the weather is good and they can find a mate. For more on this see


Many people around the UK are reporting new swifts this morning. I was struck again today by how often they follow house martins in towards the eaves. They clearly feel more secure prospecting when house martins are around. We now have five pairs of house martins, a pair up on last year, which very much bucks the general trend in the UK. Our first pair nested in 2020- we put nest cups up in 2017.

A tree sparrow entered the nest box of our oldest breeding pair of swifts at 7.12am. It didn’t hesitate in attacking the swifts on their nest. It was an unpaired male tree sparrow- they often interfere more with breeding swifts and house martins, perhaps partly fuelled by frustration? The fight lasted well over a minute and was it brutal. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I could see that the three eggs had remained intact and all birds had survived. Below is a link to footage of the fight.

I block up the boxes until mid April at least but this has no effect on sparrows that move nest sites for their second and third broods or indeed the unpaired males that chirp incessantly from the eaves until mid summer at least. They are very feisty animals and often attack prospecting swifts, sometimes landing on their backs when they cling on to a nest box. It was a fascinating bit of behaviour to watch and a reminder that swifts have competed for nest sites for millions of years, before man made buildings there would have been competition for cavities in trees and rock faces. Such ancient behaviour played out in front of the camera.

North Yorkshire Open Studios

I’ve been working up some oil skies for North Yorkshire Open Studios this coming weekend. I’ve been using water mixable oils from the Winsor and Newton Artisan range and find them very rewarding to work with. They avoid the need for using turpentine and certainly make cleaning up much easier. I’m often asked whether I only paint in watercolour. It is my preferred medium but the oils make an interesting change. Some say it is an advantage to use oils and rework if necessary- being a watercolourist I see this as a disadvantage. I enjoy the fact that I do a painting in one sitting and try to treat oil painting in the same way. Hopefully this keeps the work more lively and fresh. Some of these skies will have added swifts when they are dry enough to work.


All images and text copyright Jonathan Pomroy 2022


Some swift sketches! All available to view at North Yorkshire Open Studios this weekend.
Four new oil paintings and various watercolours for North Yorkshire Open Studios this weekend 11/12th June 10am- 5pm
Lapwing in winter
9th June- new swifts here on a cloudy, mild morning.
Unpaired male tree sparrow continuously chirping from gutter. Attacked breeding swifts at 7.12am.

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