Wildlife & Nature to See in May : Swifts

Wildlife to See in May : Swifts

Early May sees the arrival of my all-time favourite bird, the swift (Apus apus) on its summer migration from Africa.

Swift (Apus apus)

Swift (Apus apus)

When I was little I used to spend hours stood on the bed, craning my head out of the Sky-lite, watching swifts enjoy the British summer. Although they only inhabit England for a few months a year, swifts strike me as the ultimate British bird. For in the same way as the English holiday-maker gets their trunks and factor-fifty on at the slightest hint of sunshine, the swift is a true appreciator of the subtle British sunshine. An hour of watching them dance across the summer sky is enough to make anyone fall in love with the season, and the little birds themselves.

A common question from the novice bird-watcher, is how to tell apart the swift, the swallow and the martin. The swift has a shorter body and longer wings than the swallow, with a shorter fork in its tail. It also has the shortest leg to body ratio of any bird. A sooty black colour with a creamy chin, the swift has less pronounced markings than either swallow or martin. Swifts eat, sleep and live on the wing, catching flying insects to sustain their flight, so any bird seen perched on a telephone wire is likely to be a swallow.

Swifts can be seen flying high across Britain for most of the summer, as the UK is home to around 80, 000 breeding pairs. Swifts are generally between 16-18cm in length, with a wingspan of around 45cm. Their calls are high-pitched Scree sounds, and are evocative of summer in the way that the cuckoo is to spring.

Swifts, to bird-lovers, are the epitome of the summertime, decorating the warm evening air with their distinctive calls, and patterning blue skies with their constant flight. The swift is a species of fascination, spending its entire life (bar breeding) on the wing. The picture of grace and freedom, of the appeal of flight, a bird that truly embodies joie de vivre.

Watch swifts live on webcams in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, http://www.oum.ox.ac.uk/swifts.htm

Or hear their calls on the RSBP website, http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/s/swift/index.asp

Article by Lizzy Dening You can follow Lizzy on Twitter or go to her website