Irish Swifts are in swift decline and urgently need our help! All town planners, civil engineers and architects need to act quickly and decisively to help save this ancient, charismatic summer visitor to our towns, villages, cities, historic monuments and castles. Swifts head to Africa for our winter and they arrive in Ireland each May usually around the 4th May to breed but do not linger long and head back to Africa around the start of August each year. Their high-pitched screaming while chasing each other around urban rooftops late on warm, muggy summer nights is unfortunately becoming rarer and rarer each year as nesting crevices are filled in or completely removed in our relentless pursuit of progress.
We have lost up to 80% of our Irish Swifts in the last twenty years.
Why are Swifts in such steep decline?
- Refurbishment of buildings:
- Accidental removal of access to nest sites
- Loss of breeding sites – partial or whole loss of colony
- Scaffolding or hoarding can prevent adult Swifts from getting to their eggs or chicks
- Eggs chill, chicks starve
- Make sure works are carried out outside the Swift breeding season on sites known to be important for Swifts
- Demolition of buildings:
- When a building is demolished, all nesting sites there are lost. The loss of an entire breeding colony can be lost.
- Erect new nest boxes close by. Integrate nest sites into new building development
- Modern building developments:
- They have little or no access incorporated for Swifts
- Swifts are unable to find suitable nesting opportunities.
What can we do? Integrate Swift nest cavities into the fabric of building by installing Swift bricks or fix nest boxes to the outside of walls.
Also, over-use of pesticides, habitat loss and climate change have all led to declines in insect abundance. Less food available means lower fledging success.
We can help also by following the recommendations of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan
What is a Swift brick?
Commercial Swift nest bricks are made from hollow brick or concrete composite designed to allow access by Swifts and manufactured to modern building regulation standards. They can be integrated into the walls of buildings during the construction phase.
Swift bricks provide safe, permanent, low-cost nesting sites for Swifts for the lifetime of the building. They are best installed into new-builds or during extensions and renovation works. Unlike externally fitted boxes they blend into the fabric of the building and for this reason are often the preferred choice for architects.
Swift bricks are available commercially and come in various sizes, shapes and colours, so it should be easy to find a brick that fits your building design. Manufacturers will supply technical information on Swift brick types to help you at the design stage.
Why use Swift bricks?
- They are as close as it gets to a “natural” nest site.
- The brick is available to nesting Swifts for the life of the building. Once occupied, it could be used by a single pair for many years.
- Do: Place bricks any aspect N, S, E or W. Bricks tend not to overheat the way that externally fitted boxes can.
- Do: Place bricks at least five metres above ground. Boxes can never be too high, so, if in doubt, go as high as possible.
- Do: Face brick entrances onto an open aspect – no overhanging vegetation, trees, walls or other obstacles – so that the birds can fly directly in and out unimpeded.
- Do: Place bricks side by side in rows.
- Do: Keep out of reach of pets or other potential predators.
- Don’t: Place bricks near plate glass windows because they are a known collision hazard for birds.
- Don’t: Place bricks directly above ledges or other obstructions. Swifts drop before taking flight and can collide with obstacles below the nest entrance.
- Don’t: Stack bricks one above the other.
- Don’t: Place Swift bricks near spotlights or later fit spotlights near Swift bricks.
Fitting the bricks
Swift bricks are designed to fit alongside standard building materials and can be fitted by any experienced tradesperson.
How many bricks should be used?
Swifts nest in colonies, so any number between two and twenty is advisable. Bricks are relatively cheap. You might install four bricks in a single house or twenty bricks in a large school or commercial building.
In short, Swifts in Ireland are experiencing a housing crisis of their own, loss of nesting colonies and the lack of new and safe nest sites are major issues. The first step in protecting nesting Swifts at county level is to protect existing established colonies. Once Swift colonies are identified they can be protected through good planning policy and proactive conservation measures locally. Swifts form an important part of our urban natural heritage and many local authorities have moved to improve their own systems (through good planning and other proactive measures) to ensure nesting Swifts are protected within county boundaries.
We must enhance the local urban fabric for nesting Swifts by providing new and permanent nest sites for Swifts by installing specialised Swift nest boxes to existing building stock or integrating Swift bricks into new building developments.
BirdWatch Ireland published its Saving Swifts Guide in 2019 to promote Swift conservation nationally and provide guidance in doing so to a wide range of stakeholder groups.