Swift

Apus apus

16-17cm

Appearance

Plumage is blackish brown and the wings make a distinctive anchor shape when in flight. There's a pale patch on the throat and the tail is short with a forked end. Juveniles appear quite similar to adults, but the white throat is more vivid, the wing feathers are pale-edged, and the forehead may appear pale.

Habitat

Spends most of its time in the air and is flexible according to where food is abundant and where the weather is least challenging. In the region it prefers to nest in man-made structures such as churches and lofts.

Character

Incredibly fast fliers, these birds spend majority of their time in the air, more so than any other bird; they eat, sleep and mate while in flight. Birds may pursue each other in flight and screech around breeding territories.

Food

Eats lots of flying insects; this bird is capable of catching several thousand in one day when they have hatchlings to feed. Diet includes beetles, aphids, flies, hoverflies, craneflies, moths, butterflies, thrips, leafhoppers, ants and lacewings.

Breeding

Breeding begins in May with the female laying a clutch of 2 or 3 eggs; these are incubated by both parents for 19 days, and when they hatch, the young are brooded for a week. Young birds stay in the nest for 37-56 days, weather-dependent, and gain independence once they depart.

Population

This is a summer migrant visitor that arrives at the end of April or the beginning of May and departs in August. Migrates very quickly, with an arrival in Africa by the middle of August. Population is difficult to count, but it's estimated that 87 000 pairs nest in the UK and between 10 000 and 20 000 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

Not too challenging to see these birds in lowland areas at the end of spring or beginning of summer, but be sure to check the skies. Notoriously like man-made structures for nesting, so these areas are hotspots, but nests are usually departed by the start of August.

Voice

Has a high-pitched 'screeee', often heard as birds chase each other.
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