Spotlight on... Swifts

Common Swifts (Apus apus) © Colin Wilkinson

What is a Swift?

Common Swifts (Apus apus), of all of our summer visitors, stay for the shortest time.  They will start arriving late in April and most will have flown south again by early August.

Swifts are truly incredible birds. They can do everything on the wing including eating, sleeping and drinking – and are capable of flying faster than 60mph.  They tend to favour urban areas as they mostly nest under roofs and are a welcome presence in city centres that don’t tend to have so many bird species.

Swifts appear to be mostly black (but are actually sooty brown with a pale chin) and screech a lot – as a result, they have often been associated with the devil in folklore.  But nowadays they are more happily thought of as a welcome sight and sound of summer.

They have a very wide gape to catch insects in the air.  When they have young in the nest they fly around for hours collecting a large ball of insects to feed to the chicks.

Swifts are Amber listed in the UK.  A loss of suitable nesting sites - we tend to maintain buildings better these days - and a reduction in airborne insects has meant that swift numbers have declined by 51% from 1995 to 2015.

Where are Swifts?

According to our database, Swifts are found throughout Oxfordshire and Berkshire (see map below). Most of nest swift records (white dots - nesting swift; red dots - flying swifts) are in Cherwell thanks to Chris Mason and the Cherwell Swift project. Hopefully in a year or two the information for Oxford City will be much improved,  thanks to the Oxford Swift City Group.

However, our database only includes information which people have provided to us (and we have collected), so a lack of records doesn’t mean that Swifts aren’t present in the area. All it means is that no-one has told TVERC they’ve spotted them… yet!

Have you seen Swift?

Oxford Swift City Group organise a survey of Swifts and their nest sites all across the city.  Their project is supported by TVERC who produce maps showing Swift “hotspots” in the city which are useful for planners to encourage developers to include swift nest bricks in new builds.  So far, TVERC has logged 156 project swift boxes. Contact if you would like to volunteer for the survey or receive updates from the group.

The RSPB provides this nationwide database for everyone to record where swifts are nesting or flying low

If you spot any wildlife when you’re out and about, share our records and photos with TVERC. By letting TVERC know what you have seen you will help protect and improve your local environment by increasing the quality and quantity of data we hold.

Absence records are also very useful, so also let us know if you’ve been out and haven’t seen anything!

Your records can inform a variety of exciting biodiversity projects and help people make informed decisions about how to develop and manage land sustainably. We are a ‘not for profit’ organisation so rely on valuable help from skilled volunteers to improve our database.

Identification Help

Many people find it difficult to tell the difference between Swifts, Swallows and House Martins.  The Swift is essentially all dark, whereas Swallows and House Martins are white underneath and House Martins have a white rump.

Swifts screech, while Swallows’ call is more like a twitter and Martins make a clicky sound.  Swifts show a distinctive sickle or scythe shape when they glide.  They usually go in under roofs to nest whereas House Martins build a nest of mud on external walls and swallows tend to use barns and sheds.

Listen to the Swifts distinctive call here:

Find out more

See if there is a local Swift group in your area:

Buy Swift nest boxes

What else can you do to help Swifts?

Purchase the book about the longest running study of any bird species in the world “Swifts in a Tower”

Where should we direct our spotlight next?

If you are a recorder, a local recording group or just have an interest in a species, send us your suggestion for a species, along with some facts and a photo (if possible) to