Calling all Ballymoney and Moyle birdwatchers...

editorial image

RSPB Northern Ireland is asking Ballymoney and Moyle people to record any swifts they see swooping across Northern Ireland this spring and summer.

With their long scythe-like wings and their high-pitched screeching sound, swifts are one of the most visible and audible birds in our skies at this time of year.

Swifts are superb fliers and travel up to 6,000 miles from Africa to the UK and Ireland each summer to nest and raise their chicks.

Over the course of their journey from Africa they will never touch the ground, which explains their Latin name Apus apus, which translates as ‘without feet’.

Sadly, swifts are now on the Amber list of Birds of Conservation Concern as their breeding population has fallen by more than a quarter over the past 25 years.

Reasons for this decline remain unclear but the loss of nesting sites is a possible reason for this. Swifts nest in holes often in old buildings and but as a result of renovations, their nesting sites can be blocked up or even destroyed.

Claire Barnett from the RSPB said: “It is known that swifts nest throughout NI in our villages, towns and cities but we need the public’s help to identify exactly where.

“The scream of the swift marks the start of summer for many people. After spending the winter in Africa, swifts will return to the same nesting site every year to raise their chicks. Once a chick fledges from the nest they may not land for another four years – eating, drinking and sleeping on the wing.”

Claire added: “It is devastating news that swifts are declining at such a rapid rate. It is important that we know where our swifts are nesting so we can work with home and business owners, builders and developers to help protect them.”

The charity urgently needs more volunteers to take part in their ‘Belfast Swift City’ annual survey from mid-May to mid-July. If you would like to find out more or get involved, please contact 028 9049 1547 or email claire.barnett@rspb.org.uk. You do not need to be a swift expert as all volunteers will be trained in spotting and recording swifts.

If you cannot take part in the survey but spot swifts this year anywhere in NI then we still want to hear from you.

The RSPB is particularly asking for records of low-flying screaming parties of swifts, which indicates they are breeding in the area. You can add your records to the online RSPB Swift Inventory at www.rspb.org.uk/applications/swiftsurvey.