They feast on small flying insects and other airborne arthropods, usually catching them high up in the sky. Insects collect in a special pouch at the back of the swift's throat, where they are bound together by saliva until they form a kind of pellet known as a bolus, which can be regurgitated and fed to chicks. A single bolus can contain over 300 insects, with some holding over 1,000.
How to identifyThe swift is black all over, with a small, pale patch on its throat. Looking a bit like a boomerang when in the air, it is very sociable and can often be spotted in groups wheeling over roofs and calling to each other with high-pitched screams. It is larger than swallows and martins (which have white undersides) and, unlike them, does not perch on wires, buildings or trees.
RSPB The swift is a medium-sized aerial bird, which is a superb flier. It evens sleeps on the wing! It is plain sooty brown, but in flight against the sky it appears black. It has long, scythe-like wings and a short, forked tail. It is a summer visitor, breeding across the UK, but most numerously in the south and east. It winters in Africa.
Set up a nestbox to give summer-visiting swifts a place to nest and breed year after year. Swifts like high, deep crevices to nest, but because we’ve lost many old houses and buildings, and as roof spaces are filled or mended, their numbers have declined dramatically. Fix a wooden swift box to the outside of your home to give them somewhere to nest. You can build your swift box whenever you like, but it's a job that can be done indoors on rainy days when there's not as much to do in the garden.
Devon Birds Search the Devon Birds website for recent sightings of Swifts in Devon.
Devon Biodiversity Record Centre Submit your sightings of Swifts and other species in Devon
Swift Conservation Unless we help them, Swifts will vanish from the UK. Find out here all about these amazing birds, why they matter, and how you can help them.
Though Swifts only spend 3 or 4 months each Summer with us, while they are here they bring spectacular aerial action and excitement to our urban lives! Swifts breed from Ireland to Beijing, from the Mediterranean and the Middle East right up to the Arctic, but sad to say, everywhere they are in decline.
But you can help them, and you can do it personally, all on your own, or with the help of a few friends and neighbours, and if you can do D I Y, it will cost you very little indeed.
National Biodiversity Network Apus apus
The NBN Atlas is a collaborative project that aggregates biodiversity data from multiple sources and makes it available and usable online. It is the UK’s largest collection of freely available biodiversity data.
Wikipedia The common swift (Apus apus) is a medium-sized bird, superficially similar to the barn swallow or house martin but somewhat larger, though not stemming from those passerine species, being in the order Apodiformes. The resemblances between the groups are due to convergent evolution, reflecting similar contextual development. The swifts' nearest relatives are the New World hummingbirds and the Southeast Asian treeswifts.
Its scientific name Apus is Latin for a swift, thought by the ancients to be a type of swallow with no feet (from Ancient Greek α, a, "without", and πούς, pous, "foot").
Swifts have very short legs which they use primarily for clinging to vertical surfaces (hence the German name Mauersegler, literally meaning "wall-glider"). They never settle voluntarily on the ground, where they would be vulnerable to accidents and predation, and non-breeding individuals may spend up to ten months in continuous flight.
eBird Almost always seen in flight, which, as the name suggests, is swift. Nests in cavities in cliffs and buildings. Ranges widely over any habitat in search of aerial insects, often over lakes and reservoirs where swallows congregate. Usually flies higher than swallows except when swooping low to drink by splashing briefly on water surface. Bigger and longer-winged than swallows, with dark plumage, strong stiff wingbeats, faster and more direct flight. Lacks the white rump patches of similarly-sized Pacific Swift (and other "fork-tailed swifts") and various needletails.