28 April 2023
Any day now the swifts will return from their long journeys. Swifts that breed in the UK migrate through France and Spain to spend their winter in Africa, where they follow the rains to take advantage of rapid changes in insect populations. Some remain in Africa but each spring, many return to the breeding grounds here.
Sarum College’s historic buildings are home to the largest swift colony in Salisbury. They like to nest high up in the roof space under the eaves of the College where the they can drop into the air from the nest entrance.
Between May and July each year, swifts occupy approximately 20 entrances in College buildings which may house one or two nests each. On warm summer evenings you can stand in the quad behind the main building and see their acrobatic displays as they scream low over the rooftops.
The nest is built by both adults out of any material that can be gathered on the wing, including feathers, paper, straw, hay and seeds. It is cemented together with saliva, and renovated and reused year after year.
Swifts have a remarkable and unique way of surviving bad weather and food shortages. At any stage of development, eggs survive cooler conditions if adults have to spend more time away from the nest foraging – something that would kill the embryos of any other bird. The development of the egg will simply slow down until a parent returns. Bad weather can extend the incubation for four to five days.
The Common Swift is no longer so common, but it is a remarkable species, spending most of its life on the wing. When it is not nesting it is in flight for the rest of the year – even at night. It is estimated that a swift can fly more than a million miles in a lifetime.
Between 1995 and 2021 UK breeding numbers of swifts decreased by 58%. They were placed on the red list of Birds of Conservation Concern in December 2021.
Sarum College is pleased to host the annual fundraiser concert organised by Salisbury And Wilton Swifts (SAWS), one of over 90 local projects nationwide run by volunteers who are working to reverse the rapid decline of swifts locally.
This year it will be held on Friday July 14th at 7.30pm in Sarum College’s Butterfield Chapel.