I am an area adviser for Swift Conservation in Yorkshire and with Ian Kibble and Paula Sidebottom started Helmsley Swifts https://twitter.com/helmsleyswifts?lang=enI do follow us on Twitter
Swift Conservation and Action for Swifts have websites packed with advice on attracting swifts. Swift Conservation even has a shopping page with many links to nest box suppliers etc.
Bristol Swifts run by Mark and Jane Glanville is a very informative site about swifts, especially on news from their own Bristol colony. Mark keeps a superb blog through the swift season.
Leeds Swifts, fellow Yorkshire swift fans have lots of information about swifts and swift rescue.
Advice on attracting swifts- some of my own experiences from starting colonies in Wiltshire and North Yorkshire, regularly updated.
Playing swift calls in May
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!
Positioning a swift nest box- height
Many people are concerned about positioning a swift box too low. I know of several nest sites in eaves of 2 metres height. These are unusually low but nevertheless the swifts chose to use them. Cats could be an issue for the swifts on low approach or departure and at another colony I watched in Hungerford High Street some swifts were killed by cars when they swooped low over the road to access nests 3 metres above the ground. Sometimes swifts are downed by corvids or sparrowhawks as they access nest sites, but this could occur at any height.
A question I am often asked is, will the nest box be too low for a swift to fledge successfully? I have seen many swifts fledge and in each case the fledgling lost less height than a typical adult leaving the nest. Basically the fledglings flap hard from the outset and take a far more level course before rapidly gaining height. So from my own observations I would not be particularly concerned about fledglings losing height. I have seen fledglings leave at dusk through tree ‘cluttered’ flight paths where we would not recommend siting boxes and all were successful. To me it is clear they have great spatial awareness from the outset.
Even at recommended minimum heights of 4-5 metres and more, adult swifts often take a trajectory that takes them very close to the ground- frequently 1 metre or even less over our lawn when they leave the box. This is clearly a choice as they have the ability to stay higher. The ‘drop’ from the nest, aided by gravity gives the swift quick acceleration which gives it a better chance of evading predators before climbing to a relatively safe altitude. Almost any situation will have its dangers as would a ‘natural’ nest site eg. weaving in and out of trees or cliff face situations. Each potential site should be judged on its own merit.
My most recent swift sketches
These sketches were all made from observations of common swifts last year. The are presented in chronological order. We had a single pair of swifts nesting on our house in a Gilling East, North Yorkshire. I have sketched them in the air and in the nest box. The common swift has captured my imagination since childhood. Don’t waste any opportunity to watch and listen to these incredible animals this summer. Hold the memories firm in your mind and you will be able to recapture your swift experiences in the darkest days of winter.