6 January 2015

Swift

The swift is one of the least understood and most mysterious birds. Though in shape it may look like the common swallow or the housemartin, there is no evolutionary or familial connection. It has closer links with the hummingbird. Astonishingly, ornithologists have identified a hundred different sub-species of the swift in four distinct tribes. The swift spends most of its life in the air where it feeds on flying insects, mates and sleeps - yes sleeps! - only returning to earth to make little nests of grasses and leaves which are attached to high rockfaces or the facades of old buildings with saliva. If you look at a swift's feet you will see that they are short, thin and stubby - designed for nesting times and nothing else. In flight, these feet are tucked nicely out of way like an aeroplane's undercarriage. The birds routinely fly to 10,000ft at night-time, around 4,000ft higher than previously thought. Swifts are also able to navigate through different wind speeds while sleeping, automatically adjusting their flight to stay on a specific course. Approximately 80,000 pairs of swifts migrate to Britain each summer, although numbers have been declining partly because modern buildings offer fewer opportunities for nest sites. The birds migrate more than 4,000 miles from Africa to England in late April. Typically, the swift will fly at 70mph but can achieve speeds of over 100mph, making it one of the fastest fliers in the animal kingdom. In flight, the average common swift will cover an estimated 125,000 miles a year. For all these reasons, surely the swift deserves our admiration and our protection too. 

13 comments:

  1. What an awesome performer. However, I would give equal time to all species. they are all needed.

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    1. You are right Red. By the way - did you read my last post? About how many Canadian lakes have you seen?

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  2. I have just Googled to see if we have these birds in Australia . Apparently the answer is "yes" we have two varieties that are seen around Sydney and in northeast Queensland. One is called the White-throated Needletail and the other the Fork-tail. I have to say I have never noticed migrating birds, ours seem to be around all the time.

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    1. Perhaps some varieties stay put.

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  3. They are amazing! To me, they are also an integral part of summer. Seeing them flitting about and hearing their distinctive sound on a warm summer evening makes me happy. In German, they are called Mauersegler.

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    1. I know when summer has arrived when I see swallows - back from Africa - winging in the air above our garden. I often lie on our lawn to watch them. The neighbours must think I am mad.

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  4. I once encountered one on the floor of a car park - no idea how it got there. They're amazing birds. Very streamlined. I picked it up (because I know they can't take off from the ground) and let it hang from my finger for a while to catch its breath. Eventually I lifted it above my head and it made a swooping launch and flew very high, very quickly.

    The nearest I've been since is sitting in the garden watching them overhead.

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    1. What a super experience AJ! Personally, I find myself confused sometimes. What I think might be swifts are often housemartins.

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  5. There are black swifts here in the U.S. Although their populations are declining, the major nesting grounds are in small mountain caves and crevices in the state of......wait for it.....Colorado!

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    1. In Colorado? Well that's no surprise as Colorado is unquestionably the most welcoming state in the union.

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  6. The bird nerd in me appreciates this immensely.

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  7. I need to swiftly get myself into gear...I'm behind in responding on blogs...blame it on Christmas/New Year...and the tennis...and the cricket..and me!

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  8. For once I was already au fait with the information with the exception of the distance they cover in a year. They are one of the most fascinating of birds in my book.

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