June 13, 2011

A bird in the hand

I've been away for a week, but this piece on swifts in the Guardian by Mark Cocker was a nice thing to come back to – especially as every town we visited in the Minho, northern Portugal, was alive with them, screaming high over our heads, dogfighting above the streets and darting up under the red-tiled roofs to their nests.

Here in London modern building techniques rarely leave room for swifts, which need shelves or ledges to make their homes in – they don't build mud houses, like swallows and house martins do, or tunnel into sandy banks, like sand martins. Fewer places to nest means fewer swiftlets, which means fewer breeding pairs in years to come – until the skies above cities are empty all summer.

There are ways developers can help, though. Installing nest boxes or swift bricks during the construction process can mean these most breathtaking of birds will be able to make a new building their home. Boxes can also be retrofitted to buildings, under the eaves – and given that a swift can live to 20 and their young will return year after year, just think what a difference to our city skies each box could make.